CANNES – “The MP3 is dead.” As the Midem yearly music industry event opened in France last week, Yves Riesel, president of music streaming service Qobuz, declared the end of the top online music format.
“From Feb. 1, we won’t be selling MP3s anymore. All of our downloadable content will be in CD quality sound, without compression, to give music its full quality back.”
It sounds like a gimmick, but this will allow Qobuz to set itself apart from competitors by limiting its downloadable files to the WMA, ALAC, AIFF, OGG, FLAC and WAV formats. Living in the shadow of Deezer, Spotify and iTunes, Qobuz is a French UFO in the musical universe. Since 2008, the streaming service has been increasing slowly but surely – to finally reach a library of 12 million titles today.
While its competitors aim for the largest audience by offering free subscriptions that are paid for by advertising, Qobuz only has paid subscriptions, which are “high quality” and “very high quality.” There is a 9.99 euro unlimited streaming offer and a 29.90 euro subscription for “HD quality” music, as well as a special subscription for classical music, which is only 19.99 euros. This is far more expensive than Deezer and Spotify’s 4.99-euro offer.
“The problem is that in this industry, no one makes a living through streaming except for Lady Gaga,” explains Yves Riesel. “Some might consider us as a streaming site for rich people but I prefer to say it’s a place for music lovers who are ready to pay the price for music labels to survive. With a 19.99-euro subscription, the labels get back 20 times more what the other streaming sites give them.”
This is a unique approach in a sector that has been struggling for many years now. In 2012, global music revenues fell by 5%. “This downward trend, which has been going on in the past few years, is the same as the one that affects physical formats – vinyls, CDs, DVDs, etc.” says David El Sayegh, head of the French music producers union (Snep). These numbers aren’t compensated by digital music revenue (downloads and streaming), which represent 25% of the market share.
“The future of music is online”
Because of this crisis, music industry players have been asking for financial compensation from Internet companies, namely Google. Their approach is the same as the press industry. “There is a problem with the transfer of value between those who produce content and those who benefit from it (Internet providers and search engines), which can only be settled with copyright laws,” says Pascal Nègre, CEO of Universal Music France. “In the past 15 years, there has been a massive transfer of value between these two worlds,” adds Jean-Noël Tronc, head of the French music copyright collection and distribution body Sacem.
“These past 12 years, the government has encouraged the development of high speed Internet and digital networks without taking into the content providers who ended up paying for the Internet cables. Now is the time to make things right,” say the French organization of Independent Disc Producers (UPFI).
This crisis has taken a special turn since music retail giants HMV (UK) and Virgin (France) filed for bankruptcy.
“The future of music is online,” predicts Yves Riesel. “The road to success is winding and expensive but we live in a time when we have to make changes. If we want to save the French music industry, we need to keep investing and get help from the government. It doesn’t have to be subsidies, we just need to be heard.”
This could very well be the push the National Music Center (CNM) project needs. This institution was supposed to give financial support the music industry, but at the last minute the government scrapped the project. “It was supposed to be a one-stop-shop for creating or helping local distribution platforms,” says Axel Dauchez, the president of the French online music services union (ESML). “Without subsidies, the whole distribution system is at risk.” The ESML, which is asking for an “urgent two million euro fund” to help the platforms, denounces unfair competition from foreign companies.
Despite the depressing atmosphere, “things are looking very good for Qobuz,” claims Yves Riesel, who is ignoring the bad numbers. He is confident that his streaming service is going to generate benefits within a year. The website already has an international reach. It’s implanted in Belgium, Switzerland, Luxemburg; next summer in Germany, England, Holland, and Eastern Europe. The best thing would be to launch in the U.S., where Riesel hopes to launch next year.
And Qobuz will do all this without using MP3s: “Our streaming subscriptions offer online and offline audio platforms,” explains Riesel. “Downloading is on the way out, MP3s have lost their appeal. That’s why iTunes is thinking about launching its own streaming service.”
He concludes: “In 2008, we were called “French dreamers” for daring to go head to head with iTunes and Spotify, but we’re still here, looking at the future. In the end, Qobuz is a great success story made in France.”
Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.
MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative
These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."
In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."
The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.
Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.
NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.
"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.
The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."
Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."
The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.
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