SNOWBIRD, UTAH -- Michael Robertson, CEO of the still-private MP3.com, is the kind of guy who doesn't just have all the answers -- he has all the questions, too. Every third sentence from the guy behind the free music download site sounds like this: "Guess what happens? I'll tell you what happens ..."
And when it was time for the Q&A session after his presentation at the
Hambrecht & Quist planet.wall.street
conference, Robertson didn't ask for people to raise their hands; he just ran down the list of questions he said he knew they'd ask.
People here have a lot of questions about MP3.com, the site that Robertson claims will loosen big record labels' "stranglehold on distribution," as he kindly put it. The plan for overthrow starts with free music. Musicians -- basically, anyone who wants to -- put songs up on the site for free, using the open-standard MP3 format that compresses music. Music fans then download the music to their PCs for free.
MP3's revenues come from a few different sources, including sales of audio CDs created from music on the site, along with promotional work for participating artists. Some 250,000 people are visiting the site each day to download music from 6,000 artists, including such luminaries as Tom Petty. "Tom Petty gave us a song and guess who now knows 250,000 Tom Petty fans? Us," said Robertson in his one-man dialectic. "And guess who Tom Petty has to go to, to find those users? Us."
Eventually, Robertson said, music will follow the same pattern as movies -- you pay a lot to see a first-run movie in a theater, less to watch it on a VCR and nothing at all when you're watching it on TV three years later. "Guys, if you haven't figured it out -- content is moving to free," he said.
But whether or not one Web site can rewrite the music business, it is having an effect on
, developer of a streaming technology that record labels use to send audio to desktops without storing it there.
"We are in competition with Real because Real has been preaching the gospel of streaming," Robertson said. "But people are using MP3 for downloads. Real has not supported us because guess who Real sells servers to? The labels." He predicted, though, "Real will support MP3 publicly in the next 60 days."
While MP3 doesn't sell individual songs, Robertson didn't think it would be a huge business, but he said he'd be making an announcement about it next week. Also, in the next few weeks there will be some news about putting music videos and artist-information computer files on the audio CDs the company sells.
He also suggested it would be a matter of time before the company started charging artists for prominent positions on the site, the way that
does. "The reason we don't do that is we're 15 months old and it's a lot of work," he said.
-- George Mannes and Cory Johnson
Can Intuit Quicken Online Revenues?
The good news: Eight percent to 10% of
revenues will come from the Internet in 1999, CFO Greg Santora said.
The not-so-hot news: Ten percent of Intuit's revenues in the most recent quarter came from the Internet, which means revenue from the Net this year could be flat at best. And this despite an increase in traffic to the company's Quicken.com site. In January, the site drew 164 million page views, up from 120 million in December.
Mark Lebovitz, a fund analyst for
Munder Capital Management
, which holds Intuit shares, wasn't discouraged by the flat revenues. "They are going to be a solid player in both the business-to-consumer and business-to-business markets," he said. "They have a good name and a first-mover advantage." Lebovitz expects that number to approach 30% to 40% in the next two to three years.
Separately, Intuit said Wednesday that federal tax returns filed through its site so far this year rose 142% to 700,000 The company also announced that it's seeking injunctive relief against
. Intuit alleges Checkfree isn't complying with its bill presentment agreement between the two companies.
Following the presentation, Intuit was up 3.5% to 96 5/8. Checkfree was down 11% to 34 3/4.
-- Suzanne Galante
Inktomi, European Style
With its portal services, search-engine technology and shopping engine,
is ready to see strong growth from Europe as Europeans tire of American content on the Internet, company CEO David Peterschmidt told a group of investors at the H&Q conference Tuesday.
"Europe is about ready to explode," he said, noting that the company recently signed a deal with
to launch a search engine loaded with more than 40 million European documents.
Inktomi's revenue comes from a mix of per-search fees and ad and transaction revenues. Back in the U.S., Inktomi has thrived through partnerships with
The company's search technology handled 1.8 billion search queries last quarter, a 33% rise from the previous quarter. Peterschmidt envisions a searchable database of more than 8 billion documents by 2002.
Inktomi also said it's working to differentiate the services it offers to different, and often competing, companies. "Partners don't want the same services as competitors," said Peterschmidt. As Paul Gauthier, CTO and co-founder told
earlier, Inktomi's technology "is extremely customizable for our customers. They can craft different services even though they are all using the same back-end. That is critical to our product."
-- Suzanne Galante
A surprising amount of
business presence is overseas, says president Kevin Ryan. Though the overseas money and the margins haven't caught up to those from the U.S. business, more than half of the sites that DoubleClick represents are outside the United States, Ryan says.
Some 700 of the company's 2,300 advertisers are international. But international sales accounted for only 14% of revenues last year, and the average order in international markets is only half the size of those in the U.S.
DoubleClick is staffing up heavily overseas; it just opened up its latest international office in BeNeLux, and it has 50 people in Scandinavia.
-- George Mannes