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Napster wonderboy: Music labels are a goldmine

Do not adjust your set - Sean Parker hearts record biz

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Enjoying some new celebrity after being played by Justin Timberlake in the Facebook movie The Social Network, Napster and Facebook luminary Sean Parker says he wants to buy a major record company.

Parker's thinking is that while the record industry has hit bottom – those sound recordings are still incredibly valuable.

"I think that there is a pretty dramatic change in the way music is monetised that is on the cusp of happening. Back catalogues of record labels are going to become extremely valuable," said Parker at a conference in Paris, the FT reports. "If you believe this transformation is occurring, if you believe the broken distribution systems are on the verge of being fixed, those recordings are dramatically undervalued."

Parker said the record industry, worth $45bn when Napster was at its peak, is now valued at around $12bn because it failed to move with the times. The major record labels were slow to create new markets and reform the wholesale business ready for new kinds of services. As a result ISPs and tech companies now take a chunk out of our wallets that used to go to music.

He wants to create "the greatest increase in value in the history of the recorded music industry" – but wouldn't say how. Parker said he joined a consortium to bid for Warner Music, but was ultimately outbid. Entrepreneur Len Blavatnik acquired Warner Music earlier this month, paying $1.3bn for the company (a third over the market's valuation) and a further $2bn for its debt.

It shows that unlike Parker, the markets don't value the recorded music catalogs at all, although they see some potential in the other music copyright, the composition; the Warner purchase included major music publisher Warner/Chappell Music.

If the local charity shops are any barometer, households are now clearing out their CD collections en masse – leaving empty shelves in their place, and trusting the personal library to a laptop. What happens when the hard disk fails? Perhaps the old music industry trick of getting us to buy our music multiple times, in multiple formats, might then be revived.

But there must be better ideas. ®

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