Resnikoff’s Parting Shot: Cloud Control

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Imagine, the entire catalog of recorded music (ten million, fifteen million, twenty million-plus songs) resting safely in the cloud, accessible from any net-connected device for a modest fee.

Just think Spotify from anywhere – the US, a well-connected iPhone, wherever – and the ability to shift from PC to phone to stereo to automobile without a second thought.

Now, picture this same collection in the palm of your hand, obtained for free and also completely portable.  Perhaps in something that resembles the USB stick of today.  Or, for a modern-day example, just think about the iPod classic, and its wildly-expanded storage capabilities within five or ten years.

Can these two coexist?  Or does free win once again in the cloud?

Earlier, the question posed was whether a locally-stored collection will simply suffice for most music listeners.  After all, in 2009, a stuffed iPod classic contains more music than most fans can reasonably digest.  And something like 160GB will seem laughably small within a decade.  But the shifting variables of storage and accessibility are also ingredients for an ad-hoc cloud that will be just as difficult to monetize and control.

In fact, these ingredients are already getting baked.  Think that MP3s will simply be irrelevant at some point in the 2010s?  Perhaps, but maybe the question itself is misguided.  After all, who cares if MP3s are sitting on a hard drive somewhere – occupying marginal storage volumes – and if that collection is simply replicated in the cloud by a trusted third-party?  Or, alternatively, if listeners are simply porting songs directly into the cloud, secure that files are safe and accessible on a remote server for life?

In the end, the details are unimportant, but regardless of the mechanics, it will be tough to put a toll booth in front of the cloud.  The reason is that free options remain so easy, and free often goes hand-in-hand with flexibility (files are playable anywhere) and security (no outside company to trust).  Again, look no further than 2009, where an application like JukeFly can scan and replicate your collection and make it accessible from any PC.  Lala’s Music Mover does something similar, and the company is soon enabling collection access from the iPhone or iPod touch.

Outside of this specific discussion, a huge battle is brewing between Hollywood, ISPs, various government agencies like the FCC, and consumer rights advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).  Currently, three-strikes disconnection solutions are getting more breathing room in Europe, but the broader question is whether free acquisition – and portable access – can truly be contained or monetized.  So far, the prospects are ‘cloudy’…

Paul Resnikoff, Publisher.