Feature Article
eMarker joins the CueCat

November 1, 2001
By Scott Lewis

At the end of September Sony closed its eMarker web site/service. This was a site that worked in combination with a small time stamp device you would carry around. Press a button on the device while hearing a song on the radio and it would record the date and time. When you got back to your computer you connected the eMarker device to its cradle and it uploaded the times to the web site. Then the web site would tell you what songs were playing on your favorite stations at that time.

I wrote about the eMarker back in July. I liked the device, but wondered who Sony intended to use it. Apparently I was right. I said the eMarker would best be used by all the old Napster users. It would give them an easy way to get the names of songs and then they could download them. Sony littered the eMarker web site with a lot of links to buy music. But as I said, people that just hear one song are not likely to immediately jump out and buy an entire CD so impulsively.

I received an e-mail from Sony's eMarker web site in the beginning of September. It told me that the site was going to close down at the end of September. Sony, not wanting to tarnish their reputation, offered a buy back program. Just send your eMarker device to Sony and they will pay you $25 for it. Not bad considering I only paid $20 for it in the first place. 

Here is another excellent example of conflicting circumstances in the "new economy" of the web. The CueCat actually could have been useful, but was poorly executed. Instead of truly using it to scan a barcode in a print ad and get more information on the appropriate topic it mostly sent people to company's home pages. The CueCat died partly because it failed to do what it was completely designed to do. It also failed because people don't read print material right in front of their computers for convenient barcode scanning.

WebVan recently went under. This was a service that allowed busy people to order groceries online and have them delivered to them at home. WebVan went out of business because they couldn't figure out how to make a profit. They clearly provided a needed service as many people were disappointed that they went under. But this is the day of lowing costs not increasing them. Costco/Sam's Club are doing well by offering bargain prices. Walmart, KMart and Target all do it too. WebVan makes getting groceries more expensive. So only those willing to pay extra for the same food they could pick up on the way home would use it. Had the economy continued to soar, maybe WebVan could have survived. In a glowing economy people spend more money on frivolous things, and it is a decent way to eliminate what can be a tiresome chore. How many of you go grocery shopping with two little kids every week? 

Sony's eMarker was a great tool for people that wanted to download songs. Now, we all know that the music industry is screwing us over left and right. But that does not mean that people are all a bunch of downloading freeloaders. What did Sony do that was wrong? Well, actually they didn't do anything wrong, they just didn't do enough right.

You could easily use the Sony eMarker to find out songs you would like. Then you could easily download them while you were already on your computer and on the Internet. So why did it fail? Where is the money to be made? Sony tried to sell you a CD every time you looked up a song. Why couldn't they have offered you the option of downloading that song for a small fee? Notice that I keep highlighting the word song. That's because that is what the eMarker was best at... helping you find songs, not CDs. Sony could have at least offered songs from their own library of artists for $1 or so each. Then they would have made enough to keep the site going. If they could get the other big music moguls to join in then they could have all made a fortune... and provided a great service at the same time. Too bad they were too greedy.


Personally I will miss the eMarker. Toward the end (September 2001) I wasn't using it much. However, on October 1st I started a new job that is over 35 miles away. (My previous job was only 6-7 miles away.) Now I spend about 40 minutes each way driving to and from work. I could really use that little device to find out what I am listening to now.