Most tech pundits aren't worth their weight in electrons. They're shilling for whoever buys the most ad space in their magazines, or pushing their pet projects or peeves. In some cases, they're just plain uninformed, ignorant of the topic they're trying to cover.
Still, like most, I have my favorites in the pundit game. They're good, mostly independent, and well-informed/highly clued by comparison with the mean. It's rare and somewhat disappointing to see two of them being so totally wrong on one day.
First up, Robert X Cringely. Writing his weekly piece "Pulpit" on pbs.org he's usually entertaining, off on some whacky scheme or other. Lately it has been a lot about distributed wireless. This time, however, he's predicting the demise of the RIAA and, much as I'd like him to be right, he's just completely wrong.
His thesis is that iTunes' affiliate program will put the RIAA out of business. Would that it was this easy.
The affiliate program works just like Amazon's - you put a link on your Web site to tunes you like, people download them, you get a nickel. Apple has signed up over 300 small and indie labels to promote their artists through the program.
Cringely's argument is that what the Cartel provides is money and marketing - a way for an artist to reach an audience. The Web makes that dispensable, or avoidable. Except it really doesn't. The Amazon and BN affiliate programs haven't put the NYTimes Best Seller list out of business - in fact, I doubt they've even had much impact on it. Likewise, even if MSFT signs onto the affiliate bandwagon (and you can bet they will, given that iTunes has it) there just won't be enough of an impact on the RIAA's revenue stream to be noticeable.
Speaking of MSFT's entry into the downloadable digital music business brings us to pundit #2, Walt Mossberg. He has been pre-testing the new Microsoft music store and labels it "Not there yet."
The problem with this is not his opinion on the store - he's probably right - but that he's missing the boat. Microsoft doesn't win battles by making things that are better than others. They make things that are cheaper and more ubiquitous. Your stuff can be ten times worse than the competitors' stuff but if you own 90+% market share you still come out ahead.
Mossberg notes that WMP download products will work on multiple players whereas iTunes is specific to the iPod. He also notes that the Windows experience has been made fairly smooth and doesn't require starting a specific program (why the hell isn't iTunes available via a Web browser interface anyway?). True, he notes some flaws with the current version, of which the catalog size may be the most serious - it's half of what Apple offers. But MS's Version 1.0 has always been feature-poor relative to the competition. If there's one thing MS knows how to do it's pile on features in future versions.
What this adds up to is not, as Mossberg would have it, "no match for iTunes" but rather a serious competitor that I would expect to see move into the #1 position within a year of release (currently slated for Oct 12).