For those unfamiliar with the project, there’s been a comprehensive effort since 2003 at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School to envision the future of digital music distribution models that work for artists, business, and consumers alike. They’re getting nearer to actually implementing this model in a test market, so some discussion of it is timely.
There’s not a lot of public information available about the implementation of the project yet (except for a description of the research behind the initiative, accessible here). But they’ve selected Canada for their test bed (using the name Noank Media). I was lucky enough to attend a panel on this topic at the Future Of Music Coalition Policy Summit last weekend, and it seems to me that the researchers behind this project ‘get it’:
Noank Media uses fees collected from universities, ISPs, and other access providers to compensate the creators of the recordings in proportion to the frequency with which their products are listened to or watched.
While it’s not really a revolutionary set of ideas for monetizing digital music distribution fairly (drawing on conventions of the existing music industry – such as monitoring broadcast radio, levying for performance rights, and reimbursing artists proportional to their airplay), its implementation in a real digital consumer market will be. As William Terry Fisher (the Principal Investigator for the project) indicated during the panel, “consumer preferences are more widely distributed than conventional retail statistics would have us believe” (apologies if I’ve mis-quoted – that’s what I heard). Digital technologies of distribution can also be more responsive to more fine grained patterns of consumer demands than conventional distribution and broadcast monitoring methods.
Further (as Fisher also suggested during the panel), a model like Noank Media has the capacity to transfer easily to mobile device networks (such as already exist in China and elsewhere). In contrast, business models that rely on digital rights management may prove too challenging or costly to make a mobile music business viable.