Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

A $55 Million Silver Lining for Beyond Oblivion’s Backers

Last week, Beyond Oblivion, an overly ambitious music start-up, shut its doors before it ever opened. But things could have been worse for the New York-based company’s investors, who had pledged $87 million for the venture — they only lost $32 million.

That’s because the remaining $55 million never got spent, according to sources familiar with the company. That funding was contingent on the start-up hitting certain milestones that were never met.

So that’s a bit of good news — or at least coulda-been-worse news — for Beyond Oblivion’s backers. That list includes Allen & Co., the nonprofit Wellcome Trust and News Corp., which owns this site.

Beyond Oblivion’s pitch — a subscription music service that came bundled with hardware — was always a head-scratcher, in large part because an earlier incarnation had already failed, even though it had been backed by Nokia and Universal Music Group.

But then again there still aren’t many people that have really figured out digital music. If you place Pandora and Spotify in the “jury’s still out” category (Pandora has yet to turn a profit, and Spotify is still in its early stages), then the only companies that have really made digital music work have been Apple and Amazon — two giants that don’t depend on digital music at all.

So, my guess is that we’ll continue to see other folks like Beyond Oblivion’s Adam Kidron, who was convinced he’d cracked the code. Here’s an interview I conducted with him back in March, when he was still very much an optimist.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work