Consumer demand is driving change amongst the digital music services, that’s the view coming out of the 2006 Digital Music Forum in the US. And even though it’s only a modest 4-5% of total msic sales, industry bodies are paying close attention to what’s happening, especially as that percentage translates to 22% of lost CD sales. Unsurprisingly, rights issues remains the big challenge but then that’s been the case for six years plus. The blame was once again laid at the door of the ‘very difficult publishing community’, but it’s the complexity of rights tied to music pieces and poor communication that has to be resolved separate from the issues that the digital music culture may create.

There were rumblings that the litigious nature of the music industry’s response to illegal swapping is causing more harm than good, not only in terms of PR but also because file sharers are undeniably helping new artists get good exposure amongst taste setters in the music community with Arctic Monkeys getting a mention.

Interoperability, given that consumers are driving change, came surprisingly low down the agenda and was dealt with by a series of platitudes. Pricing got the pulses racing though as the major labels got a bit of kicking over their policy of charging people for each delivery platform rather than once for the product. Content should be allowed to proliferate according to some of the speakers and should be priced according to what the consumer believes its value is – heavy stuff that won’t get much attention from those who set these things.

Social applications such as MySpace are also having an impact but this time on the marketing that music companies may or may not use. Co-operative work with the open community now becoming the order of the day. Many artists are now using MySpace as a testing ground for new material and the change in relationship between artists and audience is almost complete as many observed with artist free to release material ‘whenever they want and wherever they want.’

Overall, it was clear that still the digital music services and those connected are reacting to rather than driving the market. No one wants to break ranks on interoperability, pricing or rights, so it’s down to the consumer to force through change. Plus ca change …

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