For the past few weeks, I've been surfing the web and checking out new sites. Many seem to be an attempt to replace or imitate Napster - variations on file-sharing and downloading - but others show more imagination. They don't represent new ways of selling the same old things, but ways of creating new markets for new things. They are exciting because they put the power of institutions at the service of individuals.
Fairtunes.com, which came about as a result of Napster but is no clone, was started by a couple of Waterloo University kids in Canada. If you have listened to 'free' music on Napster (or elsewhere) and you'd like to make a voluntary contribution to the artist but don't know how, you can send it to Fairtunes, which will pass it on minus credit-card and direct processing fees. For what it's worth, the founders are contributing their time and other costs - not a sustainable business model, but a good way to start. It's not universally popular in the music industry, but I think it's a nice addition to the mix and it lets people act on their generous (or guilty) impulses. The take so far: about dollars 2,500.
Another approach is idealive.com, which helps artists collect money beforehand for projects they want to undertake. The idea is to create an informal exchange where artists and fans/investors can find each other. Most projects go through the funnel of established distribution channels, which weed out non-mainstream ideas, but, with idealive, the artists have some chance of finding their audiences and getting funding. This approach poses the question of how projects will make money, but at least some fans are more interested in seeing things happen than in collecting money afterwards.