I wasn’t the first to the checkout lane with an mp3 player. I am a music hoarder and therefore loved the idea, but when they broke on the scene I was a poor college student and there simply wasn’t enough money in the beer fund to buy the pricey gadgets that let you put 200 (!) songs on one CD. Then graduation day came and a generous Aunt and Uncle later, I was rocking the Rio Volt SP100. I was in hog heaven.

I hit the eurail that summer, Volt in hand, and there were near fisticuffs with my traveling companions over this player that today can be had at Walmart for $20. Why? Well, on the train, there isn’t a lot to do (at least not in 2001). Music can get you through a lot of boring and confining moments on overnight hauls. But the macro concept there was the fact that you got to take your music with you.

Portable music libraries entered the consumers mind with the walkman in the 80’s, but it wasn’t until the mp3 player that your music fit in your pocket. There wasn’t a bulky shoebox of tapes or Case Logic book of CD’s that had to be toted along with your gadget. Your gadget now WAS your music! Most excellent.

We’ve recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the mp3 player and I am seven years removed from my Rio delight. I am happy to report that the music industry might finally have figured out how to interact with consumers on the digital playing field.

By no means do I think the industry has done anything right when it comes to digital music, yet. But the new idea being floated around by Warner Music seems like a winner to me. In a nutshell, your ISP (and therefore, you) would pay a nominal monthly amount into a fund ala ASCAP and in return, the music industry would stop bothering consumers with moronic lawsuits and oppressive DRM. So, your Internet bill goes up $5/month, but you get as much music as you can handle. I love it. It is about damn time.

Some will say mine is too simplistic a reading of the proposed system. Perhaps. Some will say that everyone will pay for the actions of the pirates. Very true. But, as the Wired article points out, everyone pays for the music you hear in restaurants and stores, too. This plan is essentially recognition of the fact that the Internet needs the status of a public utility.

If the implemented program isn’t this simple, consumers and pirates won’t play along. Right now, illegal file sharing is as big as it ever has been, in spite of the lawsuits, DRM and legal download alternatives. The consumers have all the cards in this game. The industry’s only alternative is to stagnate itself, which it has been doing to much acclaim. I, for one, am impressed by any powerful plutocracy that can manage itself into a lost market capitalization of $5 billion over a decade (down to $10 billion from $15 billion in 1998). That sort of abject failure is usually reserved for financial institutions in this country. All kudos go to Edgar Bronfman and cronies! It only took you seven years and billions of dollars to figure out what me and my backpacking buddies figured out on a train from Barcelona to Rome seven years ago.

Simple. Easy to use. Nearly transparent to the consumer, but essential to their way of life. This is how you create a winning product/industry/existence. Yes, I do consulting work and am available for hire.