MP3s for the Masses

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Not so long ago, the idea that the recording industry would embrace Michael Robertson as one of its own seemed downright ridiculous. Robertson, founder and chief executive of San Diego, Calif.-based MP3.com, was trying to turn the music business on to the MP3 revolution, but all the suits saw was a maverick who went around claiming that they were dino-saurs. When Robertson launched My.MP3.com, a service that allowed users to copy their CDs into online folders and listen to them from anywhere they chose, those dinosaurs won a copyright-infringement court case that threatened to take Robertson's upstart dotcom for every penny it had.

But by the time that decision came down, the rise of Napster, a Web company which enables users to search for and share millions of digital music files, had made My.MP3.com look like a littering violation in the middle of a full-scale riot. And Robertson, because he sees a future in which record com-panies get paid for online distribution, has suddenly become a man the music industry can do business with. The settlement deal MP3.com cut with Warner and BMG last month — whereby Robertson will pay $100 million in damages and get a license to run My.MP3.com in return — may be only the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Robertson and the record companies are now aiming to streamline the $40 billion music business into a new digital-delivery system.

What they are banking on is that music fans will be prepared to pay a monthly fee — around the price of a single CD — to have online access to thousands of albums. This music channel — along with the CDs already in listeners' collections — will be available anywhere there's an Internet connection. Robertson believes the mainstream will choose this limited-pay model over legally dubious networks like Napster and Freenet. The site's first monthly-fee channel is an all-you-can-download classical music station; a second channel for children featuring fairy tales and nursery rhymes as well as songs is set for launch this month.

Robertson has learned that in the digital-music age, the labels still matter. The industry's lawsuit against Napster has that company seeking a settlement; last month the labels went after another startup, MP3Board, for copyright in-fringement. Meanwhile, the off-line music business is booming: in the U.S., sales of CDs and casettes are up 8% on last year. With the once radical Robertson offering a third way between the rigid order of the old world and the chaos of Napster — namely, a chance to charge consumers to listen to online music and still make a buck selling CDs in stores — the dinosaurs really are hearing music, and the sound of money, in their ears.
 
By KATE NOBLE Henley-on-Thames

As he slumped over his oar in Atlanta, British rower Steven Redgrave gasped: "If anyone sees me go near a boat again, they have my permission to shoot me." Redgrave had just joined the elite of sportsmen who have won gold at four successive Olympics, but physically and mentally he was exhausted.

That was 1996. Now, he's going to Sydney to try to become a member of an even more exclusive club. He won in the coxless four at Los Angeles in 1984, in the coxless pair at Seoul in 1988, at Barcelona in 1992, and again at Atlanta. Denmark's Paul Elvstr¿m won successive golds between 1948 and 1960 in sailing; America's Al Oerter and Carl Lewis each won four times in track and field. Only Hungarian fencers Pal Kovacs and Aladar Gerevich surpassed those figures, with five and six successive golds respectively.

Before the Atlanta final Redgrave says he was "pretty certain when I went out for that race that I wasn't going to row again." He recently admitted that the decision to quit lasted, "in my mind, about two days." Publicly it took about four months before he was clearly hooked again.

Redgrave and his partner in the pair, Matthew Pinsent, predicted that they would win in Atlanta, but as the July 27 race drew nearer the pressure intensified. Media interest in rowing leapt. Post-race press conferences had been attended by about 25 regulars. After the pair won their first 8 a.m. heat nearly 200 journalists wanted interviews. Pinsent understood Redgrave's decision after the final. "I was a bit surprised at the manner of his retirement speech," he recalls, "but at the same time I was aware of what was going through his mind."

Some four months after his never-again outburst, Redgrave was back in training. But this time in the coxless four, with Pinsent, Tim Foster and James Cracknell. Training for Sydney they average 370 km a week on the water, plus weights sessions in the gym. About 65% of the rowing time is just grinding out the kilometers at 18-20 strokes a minute, at a heart rate of 140. Two or three times a week they do more intensive exercises to up the heart rate, and once a week get up to competitive pace of 36 strokes a minute, which has the heart racing nearer to 170-180 beats a minute.

It would be a grueling schedule for an athlete in perfect health. But Redgrave, 38, is not. He has diabetes. When he was diagnosed in 1997 he thought it was the end of his career. "There are no athletes who compete in an endurance sport with diabetes," he says, "so there's no form guide." To work out as arduously as he does he needs to consume 6,000 calories a day, which he does in six meals, each followed by an insulin injection.

The rigorous training schedule that has ruled Redgrave's life for 20 years, and which allows him just three Sundays off in the six months before the Olympics, looks set to take his four into the final. Already this year they have an unassailable lead in World Cup races, making them favorites to win in Sydney. In which case, Redgrave will have set a mark no other endurance athlete has achieved ... and will probably really mean it if he asks to be shot if he's seen near a boat again.