With the Oct. 3 release of “Kid A,” Radiohead’s hotly anticipated but allegedly “difficult” album (i.e., no guitar solos, love ballads or sing-along chants), the British band accomplished quite a feat: It shot to the top of album charts worldwide, including Billboard’s U.S. album charts, the holy grail for any band, no matter how “alternative” they may be.
To my ears, the album is a multifaceted musical gem, one that deserves critical praise for bringing elegantly crafted postrock sounds to a wider audience. Mirroring the band’s musical innovations has been the Net-savvy approach of its record label, Capital Records, a subsidiary of the EMI group. I’m not just talking about the group’s cool and appropriately obtuse Web site. No, Capitol Records actually went over the ramparts and cooperated with file-sharing sites to get the word (and sounds and images) out.
Prior to its release, “Kid A,” which isn’t exactly brimming with radio-ready singles, was streamed in its entirety at AngryCoffee.com and promoted through Aimster, a client that links Napster and AOL’s Instant Messenger. Furthermore, while the prerelease security of “Kid A” was unusually tight, tracks (studio and live) somehow wound up in the Net’s file-sharing community. Coincidence?
Furthermore, since no conventional videos were made to accompany the release, a dozen or so 30-second “anti-videos” were posted on the Web, in addition to scores of Web sites hosting “iBlips” — bite-size multimedia capsules that fans can enjoy themselves and e-mail to friends. While the music industry has been toying with different Net promo-doodads for some time, this was one of the more creative uses of viral marketing.
Limp Bizkit’s anti-authoritarian embrace of Napster is predictable, but industry bizters actually looking beyond the good-vs.-evil scenario of file-sharing is refreshing. Hopefully for everyone involved, it will become a significant precedent. (For a wider overview of the “Kid A” promotion campaign, read Warren Cohen’s report at Inside.com).
Now on the other side of the fence we’re seeing plenty of activity. The legal troubles of Napster seem to be only encouraging its brood — the OpenNap, the Gnutellas (and Newtellas), the FreeNets and dozens more. Some are just trying to develop a better way to avoid lawsuits, while others are looking for workable compromises that please both sides.
A new arrival on the scene is Mojo Nation, which has recently been getting attention with its take on the file-sharing conundrum. Mojo Nation’s CEO Jim McCoy calls it Napster meets eBay. (He’d do well to keeping the pitches simple, since the actual product, still in beta, is quite complicated.) In short, Mojo Nations users earn mojo — the currency here, which doesn’t correspond to any real-world currency — by offering things such as bandwidth and CPU power to the network. And Mojo is used to buy content, be it an MP3 file or software or porn (let’s face it, they come with the territory).
Mojo Nation was designed to solve some of the problems that plague peer-to-peer networks such as Gnutella. It offers more security and network stability than most P2P schemes. By breaking files into thousands of blocks, instead of leaving them in massive hunks, Mojo Nation intends to level the sharing field and avoid the bottlenecks caused by disparate bandwidths. The blocks are also encrypted, making it virtually impossible to pinpoint the origin and thus safeguard privacy. Also, to solve the “tragedy of the commons” problem suffered in most file-sharing schemes (i.e., freeloaders greatly outnumbering the uploaders), Mojo Nation is cultivating a dynamic barter economy in which supply and demand determine the market price of content. If you’re uploading a lot of files, and no one else is, you earn more. If you’re just looking for a free ride, you won’t go far.
Of course, all this sounds good to MP3 sharers looking for reliability and stability, but you can bet that most content creators only see the network catering to the same parasites. To this, Mojo Nation says it eventually plans to integrate a system in which the artists can be compensated — something resembling a tip jar. The details, however, are rather vague and ultimately it will require a collective sense of responsibility and gratitude — that is, moral fiber that most MP3 hounds have yet to exhibit.
Mojo Nation’s focus isn’t on music — it can just as effectively distribute images, software, Electronic Gutenberg files and so on. And while music distribution appears to be the most popular aspect of peer-to-peer networks, if Mojo Nation’s network takes off in a big way, it could spur a serious second look at the Net’s landscape. Web sites published on such a P2P network could theoretically control the server load as well as protect their content from censorship.
Mojo Nation’s progress should be interesting to watch; however, in its present state, the application is too buggy and the system too confusing to make the waves that Napster has. And therein lies the rub: Without a robust market, how can it attract prospective users? The plan is ambitious, but ultimately it will depend on the momentum of the masses. At the very least, Mojo Nation is food for thought and a welcome antidote to the free-lunch mentality.
Did the file-sharing community put Radiohead’s “Kid A” at the top of the charts? I doubt the bean-counters can answer that, but hopefully more labels will put more research into working with the file-sharing community instead of trying to shut them down. Let’s look at it this way: The file-sharing gorilla is growing bigger every day. Should we let it run free, eating whatever it pleases? If not, is there a cage big enough to hold him? Hopefully we, meaning everyone involved, are going to have to make him happy.