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Mercora looks to the skies

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Mercora, the P2P internet radio service, is borrowing a trick from MP3Tunes. The service already allows users to access their music collections from any web browser, a feature offered by Sling Media and Orb.

Within the next month, Mercora will begin to upload music that users play directly to Mercora servers.

"Once we have catalogued your music, and you've started listening, with your permission the content will be moved up to the cloud, explains Mercora CEO Srivats Sampath. "So if you want to listen and you forgot to turn on your PC that morning, you'll still be able to hear it."

Mercora, Sling, Orb and MP3Tunes all play to different strengths, but each enable digital access from any device capable of running a web browser and a streaming media player. They're disintermediating the iPod, in other words - there's no need to carry around a dedicated replica of your song collection.

It's not a new idea. Michael Robertson, founder of MP3Tunes, attempted to do this several years ago with a former venture of his, MP3.com. The start-up introduced a service, MyMP3.com, which took a copy of a legally-acquired CD the user had bought, and made a copy on MP3.com's servers. The user could then access it anywhere. Robertson won himself an RIAA lawsuit for his troubles.

Users will also be able to deep browse other user's record collections - a feature of the old Napster. (Apple's iTunes offers the ability to browser other iTunes' libraries - but only on the same LAN.)

Mercora is also ramping up its mobile efforts. After a tentative roll-out of a Windows Mobile client last autumn, a revamped version is now available, to be followed "within the next 45 days" by a Symbian version, then a Linux client. BREW will follow that - but there's no Java version planned.

Mercora makes money from mobile subscriptions - $5 a month or $60 a year. This opens up P2P radio, streaming access to 100,000 internet radio stations, as well as access to your own music on the move. The company launched with a PC subscription model, but later abandoned this scheme in favour of advertising-supported revenue.

Both internet radio and streaming make Mercora liable for webcasting royalties. But interestingly, the CEO told us he wasn't too concerned about the Copyright Board's latest schedules, which propose hefty royalty increases for webcasters.

"We're not worried because it's a replay of what happened so many years ago, when the royalty judges pulled a similar thing," Sampath tells us. "They proposed an egregious pricing model and everyone was up in arms."

"If it stands there will not be any internet radio - financially, it's impossible, as they demand 600 per cent of your revenue just to beam something over the air. But it will be negotiated down, and it will be reasonable, and everyone goes back to business," he predicts.

"We've seen this movie before." ®

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