Napster may or may not be a factor in the music scene of the future, but its extraordinary rise--and the attention it focused on the MP3 digital audio format--has ensured its status as a key figure in bringing this new type of sound recording to public consciousness. Sonic Boom
, by veteran cyberjournalist John Alderman, cogently recounts the brief but tumultuous story that led up to this upstart song-trading exchange attracting 500,000 users each night--along with the wrath of the traditional recording industry. But Napster is hardly the entire story when it comes to the MP3 revolution, and Alderman is wise to focus significant attention on other important players. These include the Internet Underground Music Archive, an early Web site launched to help bands reach a wider audience; MP3.com, whose domain name initially made it the central gathering point for online music fans; Liquid Audio and RealAudio, two of the first established efforts to facilitate sound transmittal over the Net; the Grateful Dead, Todd Rundgren, and Beastie Boys, a few of the independent-minded, techno-savvy musicians whose connection vastly boosted interest; and the Recording Industry Association of America, the old-line trade group that squeezed Napster and put its very future in question. Hardcore tune traders may not be interested in all the machinations Alderman describes, but those drawn to the business side of music and the Internet, as well as the debate over intellectual property rights in the electronic world, should find his account of the still-unfolding drama an engaging and illuminating read. --Howard Rothman
From Publishers Weekly
A compelling blend of cultural criticism and business writing (
la Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine), and the first full-length look at the revolution in listening to and trading music online, Alderman's detailed, unflaggingly entertaining book sets a dizzying standard. Notably well-versed in Internet history, Alderman tracks the music industry power struggles precipitated by the proliferation of MP3 technology and the infamous Napster. Alderman, a journalist with Wired and Mondo 2000 on his rsum, ably explains the controversy, from the encoding algorithms used by early online music pioneers, the legal battle between the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Napster ("Being essentially a legal group, RIAA's concentration was on litigating and lawmaking, rather than research or development that might create new models") to the appeal and impact of online music ("The scale and enthusiasm of Napster use trumped all predictions that the online market was exaggerated"). Though Alderman clearly advocates Web trading "The bottom line is that musicians need listeners, and the Web is shaping up to be the best thing yet at connecting, organizing, and sometimes marketing to like-minded people" he challenges the music industry to "craft a solution that pays artists fairly, is not overly restrictive of fair use, and leaves the market open for broad tastes." More important, Alderman places the Napster phenomenon squarely within larger Internet history, observing that "[a]side from... e-mail, MP3 trading was the first large-scale benefit of using computers to connect everyone." This is required reading for anyone interested in the connection between culture and the Internet. (Sept.)Forecast: More Napster-style sites and lawsuits throughout 2001 will give this timely book a shot at sustained shelf life.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.