Tuesday, December 6, 2005
Interview with Michael Robertson, CEO and Founder of MP3tunes
Michael Robertson is the CEO and Founder of MP3tunes. He's also the founder of MP3.com and Linux operating system company Linspire. MP3tunes recently announced Oboe, an online music locker service. I caught up with Michael to get a better idea of what Oboe is and how it fits into the online music world.
BK: What's Oboe, and what does it offer to music users?
MR: Oboe is a music locker that stores an entire personal music library online, making it accessible anywhere. With an entire song collection safe online, music fans have ability to stream their music from any machine with an Internet connection as well as sync their songs to each computer and device they own. Oboe accounts are $39.95 per year and include unlimited storage with no extra bandwidth charges, plus Macintosh, Microsoft Windows and Linux software for one-button syncing. Oboe also offers an iTunes plug-in for syncing and streaming inside the popular music application.
BK: How's Oboe different than just storing your music files online with any online storage provider?
MR: Oboe is designed expressly for music so one button click will sync your music library and playlists to any PC. Plus it has a great list of music specific features not found elsewhere likes a full featured web playback so you can access your entire music collection from any web page, a sophisticated helper technology to make sure your tracks all have complete artist, album, track name and even track number info, sideloading from Firefox and much more!
BK: Oboe looks similar to MyMP3.com, the online storage locker you battled the RIAA over. How are you avoid the legal issues you had with that service?
MR: To load a locker with my.mp3, consumers had to insert an actual CD and then MP3.com would zap the tracks to their locker from a database of more than a million dollars worth of CDs MP3.com had purchased. It was a brilliant system because music fans got instant digital gratification and labels sold more CDs, since that was the *only* way to load your account, but we were sued over a legal technicality.
With Oboe, users upload all their own files which is much slower, but is not using a database of pre-digitized CDs which was the focus of the lawsuits.
BK: I see that you're offering unlimited storage to users of the service. How are you going to handle all those music fans with huge music collections?
MR: Think about a restaurant buffet business. There are some patrons which eat more than the $9 they might pay for a buffet dinner. The restaurant is losing money on these "buffet beaters", but is making it up since the average person who will eat just $4.50 in food and pay that same $9 fee. Similarly, there are some Oboe users with large music libraries which will cost us extra money in storage, but I think the average music locker will be small enough that the $39.95 per year price will make for a nice business.
BK: What's the Webload feature of MP3tunes?
MR: A Mozilla Firefox plug-in is included with the Oboe Software Suite so music available on the Internet can be copied directly into the Oboe Locker. Once installed, any Web site with music links ending in .mp3, .wma, .ogg or .acc trigger a small musical icon to appear next to that link. Clicking on the link will sideload the track from the viewing Web site directly to the configured locker. We call this sideloading because the file is moving from its online source directly to the personal locker without having to be downloaded first. Webloading is a slight variation on that where a song URL can be pasted into the web interface and the song loaded to the locker.
BK: How do you handle DRM protected files like iTunes on the service?
MR: Oboe will backup and sync digitally restricted files like songs purchased from iTunes to multiple computers. So users will have a backup of these files which often times will not be replaced if they are lost and can easily move them to computers. However because these files are restricted, they will not be playable from the web interface like the other files.
BK: So it looks like with Oboe, you're no longer in the business of providing MP3 format downloads and content from artists?
MR: There are mail lockers (gmail, hotmail, etc), photo lockers and general purpose file storage lockers, but no music lockers. We think this is a huge opportunity and we hope that Oboe can fill that need. Therefore we are de-emphasizing the MP3tunes music store and putting our focus on the music locker.
BK: Finally, what's next for Oboe?
MR: Our goal with Oboe is to get your music everywhere. This first version of Oboe syncs nicely to any Mac, Win, and Lin computer. Our next goal is to get your music to non-PC devices like phones, PDAs, tablets, etc. So watch for that!