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Published: 2002/12/23
by David Steinberg

Featured Column: ‘Another Item From My Wish List’

[Editor's note: This month we feature David "ZZYZX" Steinberg’s musings on the new Live Phish downloads]

Sometimes it pays to procrastinate. Our columns are due on Monday.
On Friday I had one paragraph of my Phish Tickets By Mail analysis
written. Before I could get any further in it, I was informed that I
should go to Looks like I have a new topic.

About five years ago I mailed a proposal to Phish. I suggested that
they make the vault available to be ordered. On their end
they’d just need some servers running and a stack of blank cds.
People would mail in a request, an automated program would burn it,
and they’d ship it off.

To be honest, I had an ulterior motive in sending them this. For this
plan to work, they’d need someone with extensive knowledge of cd
burning, computer programming, and Phish’s music. In 1997 that was a
pretty small community. I was trying to find a way to get Phish to
hire me. They were having none of that. However, it looks like they
didn’t mind my idea.

For those who haven’t heard about this new program, Phish are going to
be providing shows for download in both MP3 and lossless SHN formats.
They still will be allowing taping of course. In fact they
liberalized their taping policy. Before the Live Phish program, it
was against the rules to distribute online any show that had been
released. Now any audience recording may be distributed online.

So Phish are releasing chunks of their vault to be downloaded but
still are allowing taping. Surely no one could have a problem with
that right? If you believe that, you haven’t spent much time in the
Phish community. As soon as this was announced, people started
complaining. There were basically three main complaints. Some of
them were more valid than others.

Phish shouldn’t be charging for downloads

This one is just silly. People are saying that Phish are greedy for
selling cds of their music while allowing other people to distribute
equivalent mixes for free? Again remember that audiences aren’t going
anywhere. Furthur and SHNapster and all of your favorite etree
servers will still exist. The net result, in fact, will be to ease
congestion on ftp servers. Life will be easier for traders.

Let’s be honest here. Phish are artists. Their business is making
music. If selling cds is not a valid business model for them, then
what is? Moreover, they’re being extremely cool about how their
formats. They’re distributing straight MP3 and SHN files. The only
copy protection added is a request to not be a jerk. They made a
point of saying that you are allowed to copy files to an MP3 player
for your personal use. Is that the sign of a greed driven

This leads us to the second complaint.

These shows are too expensive

I can see the point there. There does seem to be something off about
the idea of paying money and not actually getting a tangible object.
$13.50 would seem cheap for a 3 cd set, but somehow that’s really
expensive when you have to provide the cds for it. I think the price
point will go down eventually. The problem is that bandwidth costs
don’t scale well. If I were selling 100 cds, the cost for each cd
would be cheaper than if I were selling one. If I had people download
100 cds, the price for each download would be the same as if I just
had one download.

I don’t know what kind of deal Live Phish got, but my own ISP charges
collocated servers a penny per meg. The Live Phish FAQ estimates that
the average two set show is 750 megs. That would mean that $7.50 of
the $12 would go directly to bandwidth. They probably did get a
better deal than that, but – much to my own surprise here – it would
be harder to lower the price by that much. [1]

Now I’m sure that some of you are wondering how big etree servers
get away with their bandwidth costs. I asked this on the #etree IRC
channel. One of the dark secrets of the etree community is that most
of the big servers are located at a school or business and they don’t
pay for their bandwidth. What we’ve been seeing is subsidized

*Why bother? These shows will be available on the net

Sure the audiences will be. As for the soundboards, Furthur won’t
allow them on their servers. SHNapster won’t allow them on their
servers. Any major etree server won’t host them. Maybe a rogue
server here and there will host a file or two, but you’d have to go to
the general peer to peer programs.

To be honest, programs like KaZaA are more frustrating than anything.
Even assuming you install the ad free, trojan free KaZaA Lite,
download speeds are incredibly slow, people log off halfway through
downloads, poor quality rips are traded, and files are frequently
labeled. The ease of downloading them directly and knowing that I’m
supporting the band is worth $10 to me right there.

Sure people will burn copies for their friends. They’ll download onto
an extra computer or two. Activity like that has always happened and
it always will. As long as the files stay off of file sharing
servers, it won’t make a huge dent into sales.

In 1997 I had a dream. Sure part of it was that Phish would hire me,
but there was more to it than that. I dreamt that all shows would be
easily available from the band. People could start threads on about various shows and everyone who was curious
about it would be able to hear it. Maybe one day you’d wake up and
decide that you wanted to hear every Tweezer from 1996. You’d be able

Well it’s looking like my dream is coming true. Perhaps not every
show will be available, but people noticed that there are already pages
set up for quite a few including the Deer Creek 2000 run and the
legendary 12/31/95. Sure it’s not perfect yet. The shows are still
too expensive to inspire splurge purchases. The download speeds
right now are kind of slow. I have one improvement that I would make
to the purchasing system2.

The system is in place though. One of my biggest Phish desires is
just a few tweaks away from being a reality. Phish are finding an
amazing use for the Internet and no naysayer is going to ruin my mood
about this.

[1] Note: after I wrote this column, I continued to talk with people
about this. I got an email from Tyler Eaves telling me that if Phish
could be guaranteed enough bandwidth to use it, they could get an
OC-3. That could serve nearly 52,000 Gigabytes a month for $25,000.
Perhaps if Phish get a consistently favorable response, they could
move to a solution like that and lower prices. At least Phish isn’t
falling into the trap of setting extremely low prices and then
having consumer resistance when they go up. Lowering prices later is
always better than raising them.

[2] I sent in a dual suggestion to Live Phish. Instead of just
selling shows, they should sell tokens that could be used for any show
of that type. Like, you could buy 10 2 set tokens (hopefully at a
discount) and then later decide which shows you wanted.

Why is this so cool? Well for one, they could offer discounts not tied
into a run, like the 10 pack I just mentioned. More importantly, they
could then be used as gifts. If my mom asks me what I want for my
birthday, I could say, "Get me a 5 pack of shn’s at Live Phish." With
an intelligent system, she could give them my email address and have
the tokens credited to my account. I want this to happen now please!

David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New
Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live
music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His
Phish stats website is at
and he was the stats section editor for The Phish Companion. You
can read more of his thoughts at

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