I don't think it's really that hard to imagine the scenario:
- Napster announces that it's reached a deal with the record labels to provide high-quality downloadable non-DRM MP3s at .89 cents a pop.
- People flock to Napster and start buying like crazy.
- Some jerks hold off, figuring the P2P networks will soon be flooded with free music to steal.
- Meanwhile, people continue flocking to Napster. iPod users especially appreciate the fact that their tunes will now play anywhere. iTunes, for the first time ever, sees begins to lose its marketshare, bit by bit.
- In the meantime, seeing how gangbusters things are going at Napster, other formerly DRMed music sites start slowly signing deals and adding DRM-free MP3s. Their sales start to take off. Wal-Mart starts charging .79 cents a song, or maybe even less.
- Soon everyone is offering MP3 songs for .79-.89 cents a song. Sales continue to chug along as people realize prices are going down. A whole album for $8? Wow! They're $16 in the store!
- Good ideas start to pop up at the online digital music stores, adding value and getting even more CD buyers into downloading. Download the whole album and get concert tickets or band merchandise at half price. Get a video of the band playing their big hit live. Download album art and lyrics. Download a special "key" to get into a special area of the band's Web site. Get software to re-mix the band's music.
- P2P networks continue to thrive along with the legitimate sales. Record labels and the FBI work together to continue fighting piracy, pirates continue to find new ways to get around them. Nothing new there.
- Within five years, downloaded music sales equal CD sales. Within ten years, CDs are no longer sold. Cars come standard with MP3 players and Wi-Fi (or something like Wi-Max) for transferring. Of course why transfer MP3 files when you can simply stream them over a wireless broadband connection? If your city is equipped or you have broadband cellular, you're good to go.
- Now that I think about it, who's to say that in ten years we won't be streaming everything no matter where we are? Who needs MP3s? Subscribe to the (someday) new RhapsodyEverywhere and listen to whatever you want whenever and wherever you want. Who the hell needs MP3s anyway?
As much as I hate DRM, since I have a RhapsodyToGo subscription, it doesn't really affect me that much. For the price of an in-store CD each month I can download to my Sansa player and stream music on my PC to my heart's content. And if I want to listen to music in the car I can either pay .79 per song to burn a CD, or, better, hook my MP3 player up to my car stereo. I want for nothing when it comes to music. That's the way it should be.