Qtrax – When Is a Launch Not a Launch?

QtraxSo. Today is/was supposed to be Day One of a new online service with an irresistable headline: “From today, feel free to download another 25 million songs – Legally.” blared the Times of London this morning, breathlessly announcing the launch of a “game-changing intervention in the declining record industry” at the MIDEM Conference in Cannes.

Qtrax, is a new ad-supported online music service that, in the words of its own PR,

…is the first free P2P service to be fully embraced by the music industry. With a base catalog estimated at between 25 and 30 million copyrighted tracks from all the major labels, publishers and a host of leading indies, QTRAX has the largest legal library of any music service on the market.

How will they do it? Through DRM (Digital Rights Management) encoding of tracks from the four major record groups, and, the Times observes, “As with iTunes, customers will have to download Qtrax software. They will own the songs permanently but will be encouraged to “dock” their player with the store every 30 days so it can gather information on which songs have been played.” Oh, and the service is not compatible with your iPod.

Only….. it rather embarrassingly turns out that Qtrax had failed to cross a few t’s and dot a few i’s….as Reuters reported just a few hours ago….

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Qtrax, a new free music download service, backed off claims that it has deals with all four major music companies after Warner Music Group denied it had agreed terms with the start-up.

“Warner Music Group has not authorized the use of our content on Qtrax’s recently announced service,” Warner, the No. 3 music company, said in statement late on Sunday.

Qtrax said late on Sunday, “We are in discussion with Warner Music Group to ensure that the service is licensed and we hope to reach an agreement shortly.”

A source close to Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music company, told Reuters it also did not have a deal with Qtrax but discussions were continuing.

The Los Angeles Times also reported on Sunday that EMI Group executives said it had not agreed terms with Qtrax.

Sony BMG Music Entertainment, the second largest music company, was not immediately available.

Ouch! What a way to launch – missing three out of four of your major partners? Just one of many dubious claims to this new enterprise, I think.

What I found most interesting about the Times of London story was not so much the story but the reaction of the readers. They are neither fooled nor amused at the many obvious flaws in the Qtrax business plan. Here are but a few of the choice comments: (scroll to the bottom to read ’em). If I’m a Qtrax exec, these comments would make me plenty nervous:

They’ve created an Internet radio station that spies on you. All of your musical listening preferences are just one subpoena away from public information. God help you if you’ve been listening to death metal and are going through a child custody battle. Big Brother wants to watch you.

A crippled music industry is finally admitting defeat. Of course Qtrax will not work! I’m done with spying softwares and people controlling what I do, listen to, etc. Leave alone the advertising.

If there isn’t native Linux support, iPod support count me out straight away.

If it’s full of ads or poor quality rips – also count me out.

So does this mean that EMI and the others in the RIAA will compensate those whose lives they have ruined by lawsuits?

I really suspect that anything which has been “in development” for 5 years is at least 4 years too late.

Amen to that. If you’re still with me this far down, you might enjoy what the resident snarkologists (caution!: some geek-speak and may require translation) at the Register have to say about how the “backend” of the Qtrax system…

So when the going gets weird, the weird get ad-funded. Even in the short, strange history of digital music, they don’t come weirder than Qtrax, a music service that launched here at Midem in Cannes today. It’s a marriage of two desperate industries – the music business, and the ad-supported web startup. To steal a phrase from Sun’s Scott McNealy, it’s like watching two garbage trucks colliding.

So how weird is this?

Qtrax delivers an unlimited supply of free music to the web surfer, for them to keep, by scraping the Gnutella P2P network, sticking ads on the front end, filtering out the bogus files (that the IFPI and RIAA have put on the P2P networks in such abundance over the years), and wrapping the song files in DRM.

If that isn’t surreal enough, the company pushed a bewildered looking James Blunt on stage with a broom to say how stealing from the sweat shop was wrong. And that he didn’t really know much about what was going on – but he’d like to.

Qtrax is staffed by refugees from SpiralFrog, the clueless ad-supported web startup that was unveiled in a blaze of publicity but never quite launched properly – yet still managed to fork over $2m to Universal Music, the world’s biggest record company, before it had made a single transaction. These business geniuses have now raised $30m from venture capital for their latest suicidal tilt at the market.

If you’re going to fail, I guess, then fail hard and fast.

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