from the but-now-what? dept
I had been meaning to write up this interview with Jim Griffin, of the infamous Choruss, from Knowledge@Wharton, because it caught my eye that he opened the interview by saying: “Warner owns Choruss; it incubated Choruss. Choruss is now becoming an independent company with Warner still involved.” That caught my attention because others within the industry had been telling me that the big record labels haven’t been impressed by Choruss at all and very few expected it to go anywhere — in part because of the Warner connection. But it wasn’t really clear what that meant. Now, Jon Newton, over at P2Pnet highlights that Griffin is claiming that Choruss’ whole strategy is changing. First, he claimed that Choruss was being “re-established” as “an independent entity, neither owned nor operated by any music rights holder.” And, from there, suggested the whole thing is different:
Choruss will no longer pursue limited campus experiments; We believe we’ve learned what we need to know to deploy Choruss. We learned this in negotiations with schools, meetings with teams of students working on Choruss, bargaining with record companies and publishers, meeting with their many associations, arranging for music clearances and much more.
Working with Warner was very helpful. We received priceless advice and legal counsel. We learned that students want to pay for music, but they want that service to traverse network borders, not stop at those borders. We know students want to share and bring live and commercially unreleased music to the public, and we want to help them. We also know that working together on music projects raises competitions concerns, whether real or perceived.
Now, this is all somewhat odd. After all, last summer, Griffin told the press that tens of thousands of students had already signed up for the program — which confused us, because we couldn’t find any of them. A few months ago, we went looking again and still couldn’t find them, even as we were told (again) that starting in early 2010, universities would be using Choruss. And now we’re being told that the whole university thing is gone? Did it ever actually exist?
On top of that, of course, Griffin promised to answer questions from the Techdirt community last May, and despite multiple promises to come through, we’ve still received no answers. I guess now that the story’s changed, some of those questions don’t apply any more. But the whole Choruss thing is looking more and more like a lot of smoke and mirrors — just as originally predicted. Lots of talk, but if you try to pin Griffin down on details, you get the runaround. Every time we tried to pin down what it was specifically, Griffin would send angry, insulting emails to me, insisting I shouldn’t talk about it until the experiments were done. So, now these experiments, which don’t appear to have ever happened, are done — does that mean we can talk about it? Or will we still be told to stay quiet?
Well, either way, I’m going to talk about it… because I’m still confused. “We learned that students want to pay for music?” Really? That’s not at all what I’ve seen. Students are willing to pay for lots of things with scarce value, but I’ve seen little indication that they want to pay for something that’s abundant. Some will, but very few want to.
Choruss’ mission is clear: Make it faster, easier and simpler to pay for music. We focus on flat-fee, unlimited download and access models, both for group purchase and for individuals.
This was an idea that may have made sense a decade ago, but I’m not sure it will any more. However, if Choruss can actually make this work, more power to Jim and his team. I just think that boat has sailed. Focusing on getting people to buy music is sort of missing the big opportunity, which is working on having music make other stuff more valuable, and selling that other stuff.
But, of course, the much bigger question is how will Choruss accomplish any of this. Later on he talks about a price point below $5/month, which certainly is good — if possible. But we’ve seen subscription services and the industry’s demands have always made the price much higher. Will the industry really sign on to an all-you-can-eat music service with no DRM and no limitations for less than $5/month? I’m skeptical.
All in all, this still sounds like a pipedream. There are no details. No official partners. No customers. Just a plan to offer music for cheap. We’ve heard that before, and none of the record labels were willing to sign on. Why will it change this time?