Is MP3 the New "QWERTY"?

In PC Magazine, Jim Louderback argues that MP3 is a fat, clumsy old-and-busted, and all-around inferior digital music format. He insists that competing formats, like WMA, are superior because of their digital rights management, smaller files sizes, better audio quality, and smaller royalty payments:

Why hasn't MP3 been unseated? Formats, once widely adopted, are very hard to change. MP3 has become a lowest-common-denominator format: A device simply cannot be successful without supporting it. Why? Because so many users have invested so much time in creating and downloading MP3 files, and they'll resist going through gathering and encoding all over again. There's simply too much material in MP3 format floating around for us to change over, even with all the benefits of newer formats.

What's it going to take to change? I've developed a law of technology adoption, which I modestly call Louderback's Law: Unless a new technology includes breakthroughs in at least two different dimensions�without adding hardship along the way�it will not supplant and older, established one.

The newer audio formats, including Ogg Vorbis, seem to have at least two things going for them compared with MP3: smaller files and less expense. But because any change would require conversion of billions of files�a royal pain in the butt�it just won't happen.

The comment forums are very rough on Mr. Louderback--especially here and here. The latter is quite blunt, and wrote something close to what I was thinking--digital rights management is a bug--not a feature--to many consumers:
Louderback must be on drugs. Ditto everything you said. Is it obvious only to you, Uncle_Jessie, and me that DRM is THE reason that MP3's will survive long into the future? Ogg vobis [sp?] is the only format I would even consider using as a replacement and then only as long as a DRM scheme is not attached to it. Only a formst with 1) better quality, 2) higher compression and 3) NO DRM even has a prayer of replacing MP3. It is what the people want that will determine the de-facto standards, not the manufacturers, distributers, RIAA, or anyone else. All they can do is drag their feet.
In reply, Mr. Louderbeck then takes an interesting stand:
Yes, you are right that DRM is also a big deal. You and I care about it. But I think the mass of consumers are vaguely aware of what DRM is.. They just want to take their CDs, and create songs out of them, and share them with friends. Today everything is MP3... and it will stay that way, because that's what people have -- it's more installed base inertia than anything else. If a format with DRM had been the first one to take off, then that would be the defacto standard. Thankfully that didn't happen. (emphasis added)
He too believes that digital rights management is a bug... The absence of DRM means MP3 is actually a superior format...


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This page contains a single entry by Kevin published on December 20, 2004 3:54 PM.

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