Asia composes music’s future

Bungee jumping has yet to be adopted by management gurus as a way of loosening up the flow of ideas, or even to promote a company’s reputation. But all that could change if South Korea’s Hansol Telecom ever became a global brand.

To steal a march on rivals, the company’s management, including the 63-year-old chief executive, have been known to climb a 40-ft platform and leap into space. It is both an unusual precedent and an apt metaphor for Korea’s management style. But, more interesting than this is another Hansol initiative which could pave the way to a huge shake-up of the music publishing industry.

Some time in May, Hansol plans to launch MyCD, a jukebox vending machine with a library of 1,000 songs plus fibre-optic connections to a main computer with a bank of 10,000 more tunes. The machine will deliver CDs on demand at roughly 500 busy locations across Seoul. Customers inserting a 10,000 won note (about 36) in the machine will be able to press their own CDs.

Local labels are the powers in South Korea’s pop music industry, which enabled Hansol to secure agreement from copyright holders more swiftly than would be possible with global music brands. Indeed, copyright holders, which will get their percentage, see MyCD as a way of reducing piracy and bootlegging.

Competition is expected to arrive later this year from Liquid Audio, a Californian start-up which uses MP3 technology to deliver CD-quality audio over the Internet. It also plans to test a retail model in Seoul’s coffee shops. If it works, similar systems would appear in other countries.

Meanwhile, Sony is turning to satellite to offer a music-download service in Japan. Its new delivery service, “Music Link” will be launched on SkyPerfecTV, Japan’s leading digital broadcaster, on May 12, and will enable subscribers to purchase and digitally record songs. It will use new satellite tuners and MiniDisc recorders and include built-in copyright protection.

Satellite and cable delivery methods will undoubtedly have their niches, but on a global scale, the sound that could transform the music business may be the click of a computer mouse. And so Sony’s new partnership with IBM could set the tone for the future.

The companies have agreed to develop compatible technologies for downloading, storage, and playing of digitally-based music from the Internet. IBM is the leader in developing pirate-proof ways of delivering music through the Internet to personal computers. The collaboration involves Sony’s MagicGate and OpenMG copyright-protection technologies as well as IBM’s Electronic Music Management System, which allows the sale and downloading of music. Sony’s technologies are designed to prevent unauthorised copying and playback of digital music. IBM’s system tracks the sale of music and manages use privileges.

The companies will co-operate to make Sony’s copyright-protection technology “interoperable” with IBM’s EMMS. Music downloaded from the Internet using IBM’s system could be stored on the new generation of Sony’s portable audio players.

Whichever technology manages to win consumer hearts may soon be playing the Last Post for music super stores.

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