Doomed Startups 11/13/1997

For my 13th column, I pulled from my pile of press releases two Internet startups that (unbeknownst to me) were doomed from the start. MusicMaker, which offered to make customized music CDs, started around the same time as home CD burners became affordable and media piracy was about to disrupt the entire entertainment industry. FindaVideo wanted you to search for videos online before searching for them at the video store, which was also doomed to extinction.

Doomed Startups 11/13/1997

by H.B. Koplowitz

For a unique gift for many an occasion, imagine creating a customized personalized music CD to send to a friend or loved one. Imagine picking and choosing from your favorite records to create your own CD. That’s the nifty concept behind, a new Web site created by the [music-trade magazine] Music Connection, one of the established CD retailers on the Web.

At the site you can create your own personalized CD of five to 15 tracks, up to 70 minutes of music. Each CD comes in a “jewel box” with a personalized label. Original, “hard to find” CDs are also available through the site. Taking full advantage of the data sorting capabilities of the Internet [sic], the site lets you search for songs by title, composer, instrument, orchestra, even sideman. And with RealAudio software, you can hear 30-second streaming audio samples of every track available for sale.

The rub, of course, is the part about “available for sale.” The company is initially offering 30,000 jazz, blues, rock and roll and classical selections, with plans to have 100,000 tracks by the end of the year, and more than 1 million songs within two years.

Securing music rights can be tricky, but The Music Connection was created by former senior executives from such record and entertainment giants as PolyGram, BMG, Warner and RCA.

According to Irwin Steinberg, Music Connection vice chairman and and former chairman and chief executive of PolyGram USA, the world’s largest music company, “this is an ideal solution to a significant issue for the major music companies — having assets in music libraries they have developed for decades, potentially worth billions, but with no distribution channels because retailers and even record clubs can’t afford to stock and market anything that isn’t current or exceptionally popular.”

So far, has compilation rights from more than a dozen labels, including Fantasy, Alligator Records (a leading source for Chicago Blues), 32 Records (Landmark and Muse Labels), Newport Classics and Seventh Wave Productions. Artists include John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, John Lee Hooker, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, Otis Redding and Sonny Rollins, plus a large selection of up-and-coming bands.

The company is negotiating with major record companies as well as independent and specialty labels for compilation rights to their libraries and expects to add one or two labels a month. For now, however, for every Miles Davis, Jerry Garcia or Credence Clearwater Revival available for sale, there is a Beatles, Elvis or Dylan that is not. Still, there is much to choose from, and the personalized label is a really nice touch.

“One of the things we expect is for customers to produce ‘gift’ albums, personalized between the buyer and someone special,” said Raju Puthukarai, Music Connection president and former head of Warner Music Media and RCA/BMG’s music and video clubs. “We also expect people will create sets, or their own libraries, organizing their music in their own way for the first time.”

The custom CDs cost $9.95 for five tracks plus $1 for each additional track ($14.95 for 10 tracks, $19.95 for 15 tracks). Online as well as telephone (1-888-44CDS4U) orders can be billed to most major credit cards.

Those dreaded words: “Hon, on your way home, could you pick up a video?” will not get you out of going to the video store. But it attempts to make the chore easier by listing and reviewing videos you are likely to find there.

The idea is that before you go to the video store you go to the video site, where you browse through the new releases, find out what are the most popular video rentals and sales, search for movies by title, actor, director and genre, and check out the movie reviews. When you find a video you’d like to rent, you click on a button and the Web site compiles a shopping list you can print out and take to the video store.

The database is well organized and relatively quick to load, but one trade off is that there are no pictures, even though when choosing a video, pictures often play as big a role as descriptions. And just because you find a video at the Web site doesn’t mean your video store carries it, or that they aren’t all checked out. The bottom line is which you find the bigger chore: browsing through a video store or browsing through a Web site. But the next time you hear those dreaded words you can reply, “Sure hon, I’ll pick up a video, as soon as you pick it out on the Web.”

© 1997-2021 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.

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