Weedshare, R.I.P.

Weedshare is officially dead, and that makes me sad.

I thought I’d write an obituary.

WeedShare was a fascinating idea, simultaneously appealing to major labels, peer-to-peer advocates, and let’s-destroy-the-music-industry radicals.

WeedShare used DRM to do something new and different. What WeedShare did was take music and encode it into a Windows WMA format, and then let anyone copy it as they wished. The DRM on the WMA files permitted 3 free listens before you had to buy, and you could share your music with anyone. When someone new got the file, they could listen 3 times as well.

Built into this “try before you buy” idea was an affiliate network. If your friends bought the music you gave them, you got a percentage. If I remember correctly, the percentage cut only worked to 3 levels of depth, and so it was not a pyramid scheme (where the first person, at the top of the pyramid, makes all the money).

When you bought the song, most of the money went directly to the artist, some went to the people who had given you the music, and a portion went to WeedShare.

This scheme enabled all sorts of interesting things:

1) all weed files could be shared on p2p networks, both legally, and with a business model behind it. My company Magnatune planned on participating in weedshare for this reason, because I wanted to engage p2p, but at the same time couldn’t think of a business model to do so. Magnatune paid for a year’s advertising on the WeedShare home page, to help support them and to build some demand for our files. Magnatune’s WeedShare files were unusual, because we made lossless files, something no-one else was doing, because I wanted people who bought a WeedShare file to be able to burn a CD if they paid for it, thus completely removing all DRM and having no generation loss. I’m not philosophically opposed to DRM on free (as in beer) music, but I do feel that DRM should be completely removed for our paying customers, and I was able to do that with WeedShare, but Magnatune was unusual in using WeedShare in this way.

2) some labels felt comfortable with weed files, because of the DRM, increasing take-up, especially among big European labels

3) anyone could set up an online record store, and sell their favorite music. They called these “Weed File Gardens”, and some, like Weedis were fairly big.

4) Because anyone could make weed files, and anyone could sell it, potentially this could completely overturn the music industry, removing the power of labels and distribution outlets, letting musicians reach fans and enabling entrepreneurs to create demand and build a business.

At the same time, WeedShare was doomed because it used DRM, and sat on top Windows Media player and WMA files. That tainted them in the eyes of most people who could have supported them. Many people simply believed “all DRM is evil” and refused to have anything to do with WeedShare, and viciously attacked it in public forums. If you believed in the WeedShare model, you have to be prepared to defend yourself.

Ironically, it was DRM and Microsoft in particular that killed WeedShare. WeedShare always depended on Microsoft’s technology, so for instance their WMA files only played on Windows, and the lack of Mac or Linux versions was always a sore point.

Some time ago, Microsoft released a new version of the Windows Media Player, and it no longer worked with WeedShare files as it had in the past. Suddenly, WeedShare didn’t work, and if Microsoft didn’t change things, they couldn’t work.

I don’t have any inside details on this, but I suspect this move on Microsoft’s part was all part of the Vista launch, and the launch of Zune.

My suspicion is that Microsoft broke DRM and WMA compatibility for competitive reasons, so that all the existing other WMA shops would suddenly be obsolete, and everyone would have to buy music through Microsoft and the Zune player. Quite famously, when the Zune came out, Microsoft announced that it would not work with old WMA files, and other WMA file vendors would not be able to sell music that worked on the Zune. WeedShare was not the only victim the WMA format change and incompatibility.

Several years ago, I met one of WeedShare’s founders, Steve Turnidge, and we became close friends. In September 2006, Steve and I took a 3 week German vacation together, driving through Germany, and used my speaking engagements in Munich, Berlin and Luxembourg as excuses for an itinerary.

Luckily, Steve Turnidge is an awesomely talented audio mastering engineer, and circuit-board-layout guru, so he’s got a good future ahead of him, and rumor has it that ex-head-of-WeedShare, is now working on a new project.

My best wishes to the far-seeing crew from WeedShare, and I hope they’ll learn from this and that their next projects will blossom.

7 Responses to “Weedshare, R.I.P.”

Add yours.

  1. [...] Via OpenBusiness kwam ik erachter dat WeedShare is opgehouden met haar service. Daarmee komt er opnieuw een einde aan een nieuw zakenmodel voor musici en fans. Echt onverwachts kwam dit nieuws niet; er zaten nogal wat nadelen aan die service. [...]

  2. Interesting read – never heard of WeedShare before, but sharing income with the users spreading the music is not a bad idea at all. I am involved in a startup which will work along lines, which are reminiscent of those you describe. I Can’t reveal any details for the time being, but we thankfully differ sufficiently to say, that we will not fail due to shortcomings such as those sealing the fate of WeedShare.

    Although not a bad idea, WeedShare was conceptually flawed to begin with (as you also seem to point out). 1) DRM = bad PR and flawed product, 2) Dependency on Microsoft/one single file format = bad business, and 3) Limited to music = too much competition and too little use for users

    Competing with “free” on the filesharing networks demands something quite extraordinary of an “open business” business IMO. You have to be able to offer something which is better, which is not just music or culture as a product – because this you can find anywhere.

  3. [...] Be sure to check out the article HERE [...]

  4. [...] É por isso sem surpresa que li hoje um post de John Buckman, fundador e director executivo da netlabel Magnatune, no OpenBusiness dando conta do fim do Weedshare. Por mais boas intenções com que um serviço de música online se apresente, a verdade é que a utilização de qualquer tipo de protecção tecnológica provoca desde logo um sentimento de antipatia junto de muitos potenciais clientes. Aliás, é esta animosidade por parte dos consumidores que tem vindo a afastar cada vez mais o mercado deste tipo de soluções. [...]

  5. RobLewis says:

    Thanks for the admirably accurate and sympathetic profile of Weedshare. As an executive and co-founder of the company, I’d like to add a few points:
    1) Five years down the road, tying the service to Windows Media may seem like a bonehead call. But remember, this was long before the iTunes store and the iPod’s rise to dominance, and Windows Media, by virtue of its sheer ubiquity, seemed likely to dominate on-line media. Why, back then, Microsoft even offered a functional version of Windows Media Player for the Mac!
    2) While there was plenty of revolutionary “tear down the walls” rhetoric surrounding the birth of our service, without the support of the major labels we never really had a shot at long-term success. Not because we absolutely couldn’t live without their content, but because the venture capitalists we talked to—those few who would even consider doing a deal in the scary music business—BELIEVED that we couldn’t live without major-label content. And the relatively tiny amount of “angel” investment we were able to secure was nowhere near enough to effectively launch the business.
    3) Regarding our use of the accursed DRM, I can only say (a) the labels we needed to sign up weren’t about to release DRM-free files in 2003. Or 2004, or 2005, or even 2006, and (b) the way we used DRM was more as a means of tracking distribution than as a way of limiting access to content. Gartner Research even praised us for doing things this way. For a startup lacking the many millions of dollars that would have been needed to develop and market our own file format, player, etc., the decision to piggyback on the Windows Media architecture was almost literally the only path open to us. Microsoft giveth, and Microsoft taketh away.

  6. hoodamanny says:

    This is perhaps the very reason that drm is extremely bad… Because you are reliant on a 3rd party to do their bit… If suddenly they change their policy or go bankrupt, then your music or movie collection goes from being a wonderful thing that brings you pleasure to a huge stack of 1′s and 0′s eating up your hard drive….

    with mp3s or even cds no one can shut you out of your music….. (except the electricity people..)

  7. DanShockley says:

    @Rob Lewis (formerly of Weedshare): “Why, back then, Microsoft even offered a functional version of Windows Media Player for the Mac!”

    Um, except it didn’t support the DRM of Windows Media, so it was useless for the purposes of your choice of using Microsoft’s DRM.

    Oh, and Microsoft’s Windows Media Player was always a piece of junk on the Mac.

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