The desktop PC, also called MP3beamer, is a fully-functioning computer that allows users to centrally store, access, and deliver MP3s to other PCs and stereos over wireless connections. Any PC or device connected to the music appliance box can access the music through any browser on any operating system. What’s more, if one PC uploads new music onto the hub, the music libraries of each connected computer are automatically updated and synced.
With the release of MP3Tunes and MP3beamer, Robertson is aiming to bring digital music to the desktop Linux market.
“If you’re running Linux on the desktop today you can’t use any online music stores out there,” Robertson says.
In addition, with the hardware component, Robertson is hoping to tap in the very small-but-growing digital entertainment hub market, a market for which Linux, with its stability and low cost, is potentially well suited.
That said, significant hurdles remain for MP3Tunes and MP3beamer. MP3Tunes is following the old MP3.com model of publishing the music of little-known artists, but when MP3.com debuted in 1997, no major label artists were available for legal download.
Today, of course, most major labels license sizeable swaths of their catalog for sale online. Going with the no-DRM strategy, while laudable from a consumer rights standpoint, limits the catalog choice initially to CD Baby. CD Baby is an online retailer that has made its name as an artist-friendly organization that give artists 91 percent of the digital music revenues.
But one of its top-selling artists, according to CD Baby president Derek Sivers is Melissa Ferrick. Ferrick’s last album has sold 8000 copies since its release in June 2004, according to Neilsen Soundscan. Not exactly top 40 stuff. Sivers says he only recently found out that CD Baby would be the exclusive catalog provider for MP3Tunes.
“I was surprised to find that out,” Sivers says.
Robertson says he hasn’t had any contact with labels about licensing their catalog but, true to form, he’s confident they’ll come around to his model.
“Their music is already in MP3 format on the Internet today,” Robertson says. “I’m putting a price tag on it. I don’t think it’s a radical position.”
Of course, one could argue that the desktop Linux community, with no legal download services available to them to date, will leap at the chance to buy music online.
Even if Linux users flock to Robertson’s new offerings, though, that community is still very small. Its overall percentage of the North American PC market is at best in the very low single digits. By many research estimates, there were only six million shipments and redeployments of Linux PCs in 2004.
And those numbers will make it tough going for Robertson’s new music offering. Robertson says he earns “about 20 cents” of gross margin on each song.
“We have to get big scale to make it work,” he says.