Music Coverage Catches Some Static

Digital music is a few years old and, like tech stocks, it's done nothing but gain popularity and generate massive hype - with good reason. All those legal, business, artistic, and consumer issues wrapped up in one package make the digital music story an interesting one. This month, the Atlantic Monthly joined the fray.

An article on the Atlantic Monthly's Web site, Atlantic Unbound, weighed the benefits and drawbacks of digital music and pondered its fate. Writer Ben Auburn refrained from mentioning stock prices or other such business details, but we can get those elsewhere (and it's nice to see a consumer viewpoint once in a while). Auburn dug customizable CDs such as those by Musicmaker.com, but thought the selection of tracks out there has been meager so far (with exceptions like the Beastie Boys' surrender of their entire catalog to Musicmaker). How such services fare "may suggest how soon we'll see an all-digital, all-downloadable music business," according to Auburn.

Here's where it got confusing. Auburn appeared to change the subject from "all-digital, all-downloadable" to online pre-fab CD sales. Then he said online retailers beat traditional music stores by offering samples, while "at retail outlets it's difficult, often impossible, to hear a record before you purchase it." (Listening stations are available at many CD stores; this might not be the case in Auburn's hometown). He recovered a bit by pointing out that customers might not be willing to abandon the album format in favor of the customizable model, since CD singles aren't terribly popular in the U.S. Then he got back to the downloadable bit, wondering if music fans will be happy without "something to prove that they own the songs they've chosen."

This is where CD burners enter the picture for many online music fans, who rip tangible CDs of their downloaded tracks. Perhaps that's a bit too technical for the article's intended audience, to whom Auburn gently explained that MP3 players are "essentially small hard drives onto which you load sound files from your computer." Let's just be happy that the mainstream press finally covered online music from the standpoint of sales, not pirating.

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