WeedShare Music Model

Good Morning Silicon Valley posted a terrific response to the Great Recording Industry Business Model Contest from Weedshare:

“Our new music sharing service, which went “live” less than 3 weeks ago, doesn’t sue people who share files. It pays them. Rather than try to punish people who don’t respect copyrights, we reward people who do.

We have developed a proprietary variation on the Windows Media file format which allows us to track the distribution and redistribution of files. We call our format “Weed” (as in “spreads like a…”).

We encode files for content owners and send them back to the owner. The owner may then distribute these Weed files in any way they see fit: download site, peer-to-peer network, email, CD, we don’t care.

Anybody who receives a Weed file from anywhere can listen to it 3 times for free (using Windows Media Player). After that, a message pops up encouraging them to buy it, which they do by clicking the “Buy” button. The song’s price, which is set by the owner, is deducted from the listener’s Weed account. Once you buy the song, you can play it on up to 3 computers, burn it to CD, and download it to a portable player.

Here’s the twist: once you’ve bought the song, you’re encouraged to share it. Say you send it to your friend Al. If Al buys it, you get 20% of the sale (and the content owner, as always, gets 50%). If Al sends it to Becky and she buys it, you get 10% and Al gets 20%. If Becky sends it to Chuck and he buys it, you get 5%, Al gets 10%, and Becky gets 20%. After that, you’re out of the loop, but the content owner is happy because their material has been exposed to a lot of people, and they get 50% of every sale. The money they would have spent on promoters and payola goes instead to the fans, who provide the best kind of promotion there is: word of mouth.

If you do the math, you’ll see that if every recipient finds 2 more buyers, he or she winds up earning 120% of whatever the file cost. With 3 new buyers at each level, sharers earn almost 3 times the file’s cost.

Casual users can reduce or eliminate their cost of purchasing music. More active users can develop a hobby business that’s fun and modestly profitable (typically by creating a personal web page offering downloads of their favorite music to friends, classmates, etc.). Record labels can realize significant revenue from their catalogs, and the sharing incentives provide a fantastic way to spread the word about new artists, new CD releases, etc.

Our service is especially attractive to unsigned artists who have no practical way to distribute their material and get paid. We offer them do-it-yourself, pay-as-you-go distribution and promotion, with zero up-front cost.

That’s a really creative and interesting idea — wrapping a multi-level marketing model around a DRM issue. I like it — but have a few very minor quibbles:

1) Windows Media Player? It sucks. I’d rather see a cross platform, open architecture. But hey, that’s DRM for ya. (They say they’ll have other platform versions soon).

2) Hack-arounds. Can the Weed/WMP DRM system be broken? If so, than it kinda defeats the purpose. (although those looking to download for free will download MP3s, not Weeds)

3) RIAA: Will the goons be able to distinguish between the sharers of these products? Will I be inviting a lawsuit from the Music Police if I share weed products?

All told, its a way cool idea that has some promise . . .

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. colin_zr commented on Sep 30

    hmm, looks like a sort of DRM-crippled Mediagora. (Crippled not only because users don’t like DRM, but also because it doesn’t allow people to remix freely.)

    In their favour, though, they have actually implemented their system.

  2. meta-roj blog commented on Oct 6


    i might be coming in on the tail of interest here, but since i do have some observations, and a blog, and a [small] audience of dedicated fans hanging on my every word when it comes to the music business…

  3. ozone333 commented on Nov 19

    I am a weedshare artist and I think it’s a great idea! I jumped in because promotion is so expensive and it’s very hard to get the word out! Also, this puts a positive light on a rather negative process created by who else but microsoft. If the weedshare system gets alot of press, I think it will take off and I’m betting 8 albums on it! check out my site and download a few tracks if you want :)

  4. Darcy Fray commented on Nov 25

    I am also an indie weedshare artist. I can’t afford to properly self-release a CD at the moment, so I opted to make my album an exclusive weedshare release. Fans of Lush, Garbage, The Breeders and Pink Floyd should stop by and check it out.

  5. xavi commented on Dec 10

    Just a few days ago I started a public beta of FAIRCOPY, a new service for selling digital works that encourages copying. It’s similar to Weed, but…
    – FAIRCOPY doesn’t use DRM technology
    – FAIRCOPY is multiplatform.
    – FAIRCOPY incentive system has only one level (not 3)

    xavi caballe grebol

  6. Maestri’s Electronic Music commented on Aug 10

    A weedshare artist myself, I have my concerns, but overall, I think this, or future models like this, will help the music industry. Even if someone is listening to a hacked version of my song, they are at least listening to it!

    Until the entire world is one giant high-speed wireless network and we all have computer chips enfused in our brains we will just have to live with the fact that hackers will hack.

  7. Chris commented on Jan 4

    As I understand with Faircopy – you have to buy the file first before you can check it out? If that is true – that is why I think Weed is much better – you can listen three times before paying anything. Also, once you buy a weed file, to redistribute – the weed/drm handles the updating , you don’t have to take the extra step as with Faircopy. Also Weed uses PayPal – much more widely accepted than Faircopy’s Moneybookers.

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