Qtrax: Can ad-supported p2p work?

by Mathew on January 27, 2008 · 24 comments

Update:

Matt posted a comment here with a link to Silicon Alley Insider, which notes that a Warner Music rep says the label has not licensed its music to Qtrax, and Universal hasn’t signed a deal either but is reportedly talking to the company. Sounds like even more reasons to be skeptical.

Original post:

Qtrax finally launched on the weekend at the Midem music conference in Cannes — although the service is currently down, with a page telling users it is unavailable “due to overwhelming demand” and to return in 24 hours. The service, which used to be a Kazaa-style p2p app, has spent the past four or five years now trying to become what it claims is the first legal peer-to-peer music service.

There are more than a few reasons to be skeptical about its chances. One is that Qtrax has already missed several launch dates, most recently in October. And while Wired magazine says that the company has more than 25 million tracks, other reports say that includes all the songs available on Limewire and other p2p networks, and it’s not clear how many of those will actually be available to Qtrax users.

The fact that it has taken this long for the service to even launch is a sign of how hard it is to build a business that suits the demands of the record industry and the needs of users. It’s also not clear whether the company’s business model – music paid for by advertising – will even work or not. Several other companies, including SpiralFrog.com, are looking to do the same thing, but have yet to show much success (several SpiralFrog executives left last year). Note: See the comment from Brian below for a link to some numbers about SpiralFrog.

While the songs are free, you have to use the Qtrax music player software — a specialized version of the Songbird music browser, which is itself based on Firefox — in order to play them, so that the browser can show you the ads that are supposed to pay for everything. In other words, no iTunes. And while the company says it is working on iPod support, at the moment it appears that Qtrax files won’t play on iPods.

It’s bad enough that the files include digital-rights controls that prevent them from being burned to CD. If they won’t play on the world’s most popular music device, that would be a killer. Meanwhile, Amazon says it is rolling out its giant music service internationally — and it is completely DRM free. Will users prefer DRM-free music that costs money, or free music that comes with all kinds of restrictions?

  • allen

    it's gotta be free right Mathew? I mean charging for content (which includes music) is wrong! Soon we will get everything for free! Nothing will cost anything.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I don't think it has to be free, Allen — but it has to be relatively
    inexpensive, and easy to buy and use in any way a listener wants to, in my
    opinion.

  • allen

    oh but not like say, a feed from a writer you enjoy, and get educated from?

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Allen, I don't really think there's any way to compare a song you can
    download and put on a portable player and listen to hundreds of times to a
    blog post — or even a series of blog posts — from someone, unless (as I
    said) that person has something truly unique to say. I wish I could say
    that more bloggers (including myself) fit into that category, but I just
    don't think that's the case.

  • matt

    Oops, looks like Qtrax doesn't have their ducks in a row:

    http://www.alleyinsider.com/2008/01/warner-were

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks for that, Matt.

  • http://www.graduallythensuddenly.com Daniel Gibbons

    Something's been bugging me for a while about the chorus of “content must be free”. On the surface it implies a wonderful and democratic world in which advertisers support an ever-more diverse pool of artists. But underneath it feels like it's simply about aggregating content for no other purpose than to sell advertising. It's just as cynical and no more egalitarian than the actions of the media barons of old.

    I also agree that it's misleading to talk about paying for music and paying for blog feeds in the same context. It's hard and time-consuming to create great music so the market will to an extent always respond to its relative scarcity. It's ludicrously easy to set up a blog and write a few hundred words a day, so there's almost certain to be more decent content than buyers. I don't mean that in any way to disparage those who blog regularly; I simply think it's a reality of this economy.

  • allen

    gotcha – it is the same but clearly we won't see eye-2-eye on this… out of curiosity, how much is the newspaper that you write on during the week? like if i bought one at a news stand?

  • allen

    now daniel – that's a pile of crap :)

    while i agree for anyone to setup a blog, it might be easy – why don't you come sit with me for a day during 12-14 hours while i write, research, analyze, etc. over the content i write – you see im not a copy blogger.

    maybe i am not a blogger after all.

  • http://www.graduallythensuddenly.com Daniel Gibbons

    Allen,
    The real point is that no matter how much time you invest in your blog, the time, expense and effort is much lower than producing a track or album.

    It's not about the time you spend producing really good content; it's about the noise created by others who collectively are producing an overwhelming volume of copy at the same time, because the barriers to doing so are so low.

    Note that I didn't say it was ludicrously easy to create *good* blog content, but rather that *good* isn't enough to create the same market that exists for music.
    D

  • http://www.spiralfrog.com Brian P

    An important update – SpiralFrog just announced it has achieved more than 1 million unique monthly visitors and more than 400,000 registered users. That's pretty fast growth in just 4 months…

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Brian.

  • allen

    it's gotta be free right Mathew? I mean charging for content (which includes music) is wrong! Soon we will get everything for free! Nothing will cost anything.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I don't think it has to be free, Allen — but it has to be relatively
    inexpensive, and easy to buy and use in any way a listener wants to, in my
    opinion.

  • allen

    oh but not like say, a feed from a writer you enjoy, and get educated from?

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Allen, I don't really think there's any way to compare a song you can
    download and put on a portable player and listen to hundreds of times to a
    blog post — or even a series of blog posts — from someone, unless (as I
    said) that person has something truly unique to say. I wish I could say
    that more bloggers (including myself) fit into that category, but I just
    don't think that's the case.

  • matt

    Oops, looks like Qtrax doesn't have their ducks in a row:

    http://www.alleyinsider.com/2008/01/warner-were

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks for that, Matt.

  • http://www.graduallythensuddenly.com Daniel Gibbons

    Something's been bugging me for a while about the chorus of “content must be free”. On the surface it implies a wonderful and democratic world in which advertisers support an ever-more diverse pool of artists. But underneath it feels like it's simply about aggregating content for no other purpose than to sell advertising. It's just as cynical and no more egalitarian than the actions of the media barons of old.

    I also agree that it's misleading to talk about paying for music and paying for blog feeds in the same context. It's hard and time-consuming to create great music so the market will to an extent always respond to its relative scarcity. It's ludicrously easy to set up a blog and write a few hundred words a day, so there's almost certain to be more decent content than buyers. I don't mean that in any way to disparage those who blog regularly; I simply think it's a reality of this economy.

  • allen

    gotcha – it is the same but clearly we won't see eye-2-eye on this… out of curiosity, how much is the newspaper that you write on during the week? like if i bought one at a news stand?

  • allen

    now daniel – that's a pile of crap :)

    while i agree for anyone to setup a blog, it might be easy – why don't you come sit with me for a day during 12-14 hours while i write, research, analyze, etc. over the content i write – you see im not a copy blogger.

    maybe i am not a blogger after all.

  • http://www.graduallythensuddenly.com Daniel Gibbons

    Allen,
    The real point is that no matter how much time you invest in your blog, the time, expense and effort is much lower than producing a track or album.

    It's not about the time you spend producing really good content; it's about the noise created by others who collectively are producing an overwhelming volume of copy at the same time, because the barriers to doing so are so low.

    Note that I didn't say it was ludicrously easy to create *good* blog content, but rather that *good* isn't enough to create the same market that exists for music.
    D

  • http://www.spiralfrog.com Brian P

    An important update – SpiralFrog just announced it has achieved more than 1 million unique monthly visitors and more than 400,000 registered users. That's pretty fast growth in just 4 months…

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Brian.

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