ILast week, defunct music platform LimeWire announced a return under new management.
Yes, LimeWire is back – but as a marketplace for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) rather than a file-sharing service. And with a team that has nothing to do with the debut classic you knew and (perhaps) loved.
This is the latest example of a brand coming back from the dead to cash in on the crypto gold rush. RadioShack, MoviePass and even something called “BlockbusterDAO” also delved into nostalgia for the near past.
LimeWire’s resurrection is a bet on brand power. The team behind the company’s new cryptographic service hopes a trusted name can help new users enter the notoriously inhospitable world of Web 3.
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LimeWire rose to prominence in the early 2000s, after Napster and pre-streaming, as a pirate-centric music alternative to the iTunes Store. Just as you could get free movies and software through BitTorrent, LimeWire let you download audio files (usually at an incredibly slow rate). In 2010, the service was shut down by a federal injunction, and the company behind it paid the majors $105 million in an out-of-court settlement.
It is fondly remembered, however. Rapper Soulja Boy – one of the first true internet native musicians – used the platform to generate interest in his early singles. For those frustrated with the current structure of the music industry, which emphasizes algorithmic discovery and streaming monoliths, it’s not hard to find something appealing in the DIY awkwardness of the LimeWire paradigm.
Not your cousin’s LimeWire
LimeWire was acquired last year by a pair of Austrian brothers, Paul and Julian Zehetmayr, and is now relaunched with a crypto twist. Purchases will be denominated in US dollars, but it bills itself as an OpenSea alternative, a sort of eBay for NFTs, with a focus on music-related collectibles. Julian told Bloomberg it would be “initially a very music-driven market” but left the door open for other types of NFTs.
On Monday, LimeWire announced a partnership with blockchain company Algorand. In an attempt to attract speculators, the company also plans to release a token (according to the company’s website, LMWR is already sold to insiders by invitation only).
What’s unclear is how the new LimeWire will differ from existing NFT music platforms. Sound.xyz, which launched in December, explicitly focuses on common listening and monetization. Royal, led by producer Justin Blau, offers song royalties via crypto. The catalog is a marketplace for unique audio NFTs. And communities like Water & Music, Tiny Mix Tapes, Poolsuite, and Sone are experimenting with the social side of musical NFTs.
So far, LimeWire’s revival looks like a pure gesture, an attempt by these two entrepreneurs to build on the file-sharing site’s reputation in hopes of a quick payday.
To be clear, “LimeWire” isn’t coming back, just a few guys bought the name/brand. The original team is not involved. Much like the RadioShack garbage earlier this year…. why build something new when you can just buy someone else’s credibility. https://t.co/hbXXQuXcQw
— danlesac.oof 🦄💣 (@danlesac) March 9, 2022
And while cash grabs have always been part of the crypto course, the attempt to resurrect a beloved old brand under the auspices of Web 3 has become a trend in recent months.
Web 3 is a trend
RadioShack, the electronics chain, filed for bankruptcy in 2015, but was resurrected in December as a decentralized cryptocurrency exchange. Self-help influencer Tai Lopez bought the brand in 2020 and orchestrated the relaunch.
The proposition is that an older, more established brand is better placed to hold the hands of mainstream consumers who still have a feel for these complicated new systems.
“Currently, crypto doesn’t have any well-known brands over 15 years old,” announces a promotional piece for RadioShack’s relaunch. “Until now. Our hypothesis is that the best way for crypto to be more mainstream is for an established brand in the tech space to lead the way.
As it exists today, radioshack.org hosts what is essentially an off-brand version of Uniswap, the leading decentralized Ethereum-based token exchange. In what appears to be a skeuomorphic radio interface, you can switch between ETH, USDC, USDT, MATIC, and a few other coins.
Of course, you can also trade for RADIO, the cryptocurrency Lopez and his team concocted to promote this product (it’s currently trading at around 2 cents a pop).
As with LimeWire, there’s no clear reason this zombie product exists except to lull potential customers into a false sense of security. But nostalgia won’t help you, in crypto. It’s hard to imagine your average hardware junkie – that is, the kind of person who might have wanted to shop at RadioShack in the 90s – feeling drawn to a program that lets you trade a type of obscure cryptocurrency against another. At least with LimeWire, the customer base is already geared towards file sharers and privacy nerds.
There’s also MoviePass, a subscription ticketing service for movie theaters, which gained momentum in 2018 thanks to its incredible price: $10 a month for virtually unlimited screening in a variety of theaters. (A movie a day, really, but who’s counting?) Being unsustainable, that price was also the reason the company closed in late 2019.
MoviePass wasn’t scrapped and sold for coins the way RadioShack and LimeWire were, but it’s almost certainly set to incorporate “blockchain” into whatever it has planned for its resurrection.
At a press event last month, original MoviePass co-founder Stacy Spikes revealed, somewhat hilariously, that MoviePass 2.0 will involve eyeball tracking software.
Spikes’ idea is that consumers want to spend Continued more time watching commercials than watching movies.
“I love product placement in movies,” Spikes said, according to the New York Post. “I like cars, I like watches, I like clothes. I’m that person who sometimes has a notepad and I write, it’s Hugo Boss?
As noted by Spikes, MoviePass 2.0 will track your eyeballs using face detection. If the software determines that you are actually watching the ads, you will get credits; Watching movies on demand during prime time on the new service will require more of those credits. Everything is “powered by Web 3 technology”, i.e. a blockchain with a cryptocurrency.
It’s somewhat in line with Y Combinator founder Sam Altman’s Worldcoin project, which, surprisingly, is also gleaning blockchain-backed tokens from consumer eyeballs. My colleague, David Z. Morris, called it “scary as hell.”
What is it about blockchain that makes it such an attractive last resort? Can Web 3 really breathe new life into these once-loved services, or is the idea of a blockchain hub a kind of abandonment in and of itself? Is the “property economy” narrative really that compelling?
Consumers can know when something is wrong. I’m not convinced by the argument that consumers will instinctively trust something like a LimeWire 2.0 just because they recognize the name.
Every brand dies, baby, that’s a fact. Maybe it’s better to accept this reality than go down the “Weekend at Bernie’s” route.
LimeWire, RadioShack, and MoviePass are three wildly different companies, offering wildly different products even now. Blockchain has never been a one-size-fits-all solution; nothing good can come from recklessly jumping on the hype bandwagon.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.