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Selling Music for a Song

Online music stores make at most a dime per track--where does the money go?

3 min read

If an average CD contains 15 songs and sells profitably in stores for US $15, you would think online services could make oodles of money selling individual songs for $1 each. After all, there's no physical CD being created, boxed, shrink-wrapped, and shipped all over the world. There's no retail store with a huge rent or shoplifters to worry about. There are no unsold discs to be returned or thrown out. And yet, the surprising truth is that online music services are anything but the gold mines you would expect them to be--not even Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store, by far the biggest of the bunch with about half the online song market.

Who's getting all the cash? Back in November 2003, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the then 7-month-old service was falling shy of merely breaking even. He explained that out of the 99 cents that Apple charges for a song, about 65 cents goes to the music label that recorded it. Another 25 cents goes for "distribution costs"--mainly credit card charges, but also for the servers, bandwidth, and other expenses needed to operate a large online service. Marketing, promotion, and the amortized cost of developing the iTunes software itself eats up the rest. In the first quarter of 2004, the iTunes Music Store finally made a "small profit," Jobs claimed recently.

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Digging Into the New QD-OLED TVs

Formerly rival technologies have come together in Samsung displays

5 min read
Television screen displaying closeup of crystals

Sony's A95K televisions incorporate Samsung's new QD-OLED display technology.

Televisions and computer monitors with QD-OLED displays are now on store shelves. The image quality is—as expected—impressive, with amazing black levels, wide viewing angles, a broad color gamut, and high brightness. The products include:

All these products use display panels manufactured by Samsung but have their own unique display assembly, operating system, and electronics.

I took apart a 55-inch Samsung S95B to learn just how these new displays are put together (destroying it in the process). I found an extremely thin OLED backplane that generates blue light with an equally thin QD color-converting structure that completes the optical stack. I used a UV light source, a microscope, and a spectrometer to learn a lot about how these displays work.

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