Technological and Social Drivers of Change in the Online Music Industry (originally published in February 2002)

Mark Fox


This paper is included in the First Monday Special Issue: Music and the Internet, published in July 2005. Special Issue editor David Beer asked authors to submit additional comments regarding their articles.
This article complements two works that I wrote around the same time—in Popular Music and Society ("E-commerce Business Models for the Music Industry", volume 27, number 2), and—along with Bruce Wrenn—in the International Journal on Media Management ("A Broadcasting Model for the Music Industry", volume 3, number 2).
Technological, social and legal changes have continued to shape the development of business models in the music industry. Notably, Apple Computer’s iTunes service has been extremely successful with over 250 millions songs being downloaded and paid for. Today, some iPOD players are capable of storing 75,000 songs. Other major developments include the development of a download service (at 88 cents per song) by Wal-Mart, the world’s largest company. And, Napster has been re-invented as a subscription site. Alternative approaches to copyright have been developed, most notably by the Creative Commons project.
I believe that the most interesting technological challenges today revolve around how technology can be used to help us decide—or decide for us)—what to listen to. Research on music information retrieval systems will no doubt lead to developments that make the way we access music today seem cumbersome.
Considerable attention has been given to the legal implications arising from the distribution of music in a digital format via the Internet. However, less attention has been paid to the technological and social drivers of change in the music industry. This paper attempts to demonstrate the significant impact that social and technological forces have on the music industry, especially regarding lowering barriers to entry.

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