While the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry was on its toes last week blaming illegal copying and downloads for 2002's 7% slump in global sales of recorded music, the industry has long been dragging its feet in boosting legal online music sellers. Legit sites like Rhapsody and Pressplay in the U.S. may be mere ripples on the bottom line, but signs are suddenly everywhere of bigger waves to come: last week's news that Apple is eyeing a $6 billion bid for Universal Music bolstered persistent rumors of Apple's long-term ambition to add digital music delivery to its iLife philosophy. Also in the U.S., Madonna's single American Life debuted last month at #4 on Billboard's Hot 100 on the strength of download sales alone. Itching to show they're ahead of the trend, European distributors held a Digital Download Day last week, inviting people to visit online vendors at www.digitaldownloadday.com and help themselves to a free 35's worth-30 downloads or 300 streams-from a catalog of 170,000 tracks and 7,500 artists from all five major record companies."
The critical thing for consumers is having the chart catalog all in one place," says Charles Grimsdale, CEO of OD2, platform providers for major download sites like Dotmusic and HMV, who expects 100,000 to take up the offer. Also critical is reliable sales data, according to James Gillespie, product and new media coordinator of the Official U.K. Charts Company, which last week announced it will debut a U.K. digital-download singles chart this fall, the world's first such national chart. Weighting the various download formats is a huge challenge, and security to thwart chart riggers will be tight, but the unspoken sticking point remains price. A high-tech black market is flourishing global sales of blank CDs soared 40% last year. Meanwhile an old market founders: Madonna's single, a steal at just $1.49 a download, made Billboard's Top 10 with a paltry 4,000 sales in one week. "We know the demand is out there," Gillespie gamely insists, "but when you start asking people to pay for it ? " Either the price is wrong or Madonna needs a new songwriter.
Mug Today, Dust Tomorrow
Next time you take a sip from your favorite mug, ask yourself how old it is; Tom Dixon, a British product designer and creative director of the houseware shop Habitat, predicts it's under three years old. After that, it's likely to have been chipped or cracked. Using a material made from bamboo fiber and water-soluble resin, Dixon devised a line of biodegradable tableware that can be recycled when its shelf life is finished. The first item, a dishwasher-safe cup, made its debut at Milan's furniture fair last week. The cup slowly degrades as it is used and washed. After about four years, it will begin to crack. At that point, turn it into a planter or bury it, and it will slowly break down. They're €22 for four. Next up: salad bowls, espresso cups and platters.