Followup: Smithsonian Global Sound

In January, I bitched about the fact that the pivotal Folkways recordings of world music and American folk were only available on MSN Music. Sometime last week (I don’t know when, I’m behind in my posts), the Smithsonian partially redressed that market inefficiency by opening Smithsonian Global Sound, their own online music store featuring $.99/track downloads (though some longer tracks are more expensive), a wide catalog of field and folk recordings, and a choice of two DRM-free formats—MP3 and FLAC. That’s right, you can buy lossless recordings from the store. Add downloadable liner notes and we’re all in business.

I do have one criticism of the store. This is a good place to buy a la carte from the massive Smithsonian archives, but not a good place to buy albums. There doesn’t seem to be a per-album price, meaning that if you find an album with 20 tracks, you’ll pay 20 dollars. And I think “by the album” is the way that most people will want to explore this music. After all, it’s not as though you’re coming to the Smithsonian looking for “hot singles.” Another, lesser critique: there is no persistent “wish list”—your shopping cart is emptied when you leave your session and there is no other way short of managing a list offline to keep track of songs that you might want to buy at another time.

What’s confusing about all of this is the supposedly exclusive agreement that MSN Music had to sell this music through September of this year, according to the original New York Times article. It sure looks like the same catalog to me.

I’m not complaining, though. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some downloading to do.

Last HBS follow up, I swear: John Dvorak

Tech columnist John Dvorak weighed in yesterday on the ongoing MBA admissions brouhaha in his unofficial blog. His original post came down on the side of the “hackers”; I followed up in his comments to point to my post, and today he wrote the following:

OK after all my rants and various philosophical concepts the actual instructions for the student URL re-direction in the Harvard scandal is revealed here on the PowerYogi site. Reader/blogger Tim Jarrett sent me the link. Jarrett also takes a hard line approach to what I’d now call a script kiddy violation or simple curiosity. But, if indeed, there was a complex and dubious procedure then there may be some justification for complaint. In this case the indication is that the students should have known this was traceable. Making such an error shows bad judgement.

I still think the colleges should have sut up and not showboated and exposed the fact that they were using flawed software. And I’m still not convinced this can be considered “hacking” in any real sense. But I now retract my earlier comments and criticisms made today.

As Adam said in my comment threads, this whole thing has the makings of an excellent business school ethics case. There are so many dimensions, so much going on, that it’s impossible to take a hard line on it without looking at the facts.

I’m actually grateful to the folks who found the flaw and the lousy programmers at ApplyYourself, because I’ve had more honest and productive discussions about business and personal ethics and the Internet in the last four days than the last four years.