Last week, the defunct music platform LimeWire announced a comeback 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 early-aughts classic you knew and (maybe) loved.
It’s the latest example of a brand returning from the dead to cash in on the crypto gold rush. RadioShack, MoviePass and even something called “BlockbusterDAO” have all leaned into near-past nostalgia, too.
LimeWire’s resurrection is a bet on the power of the brand. The team behind the company’s new, crypto-inflected service is hoping a trusted name can help ease new users into the notoriously inhospitable world of Web 3.
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LimeWire rose to prominence in the early 2000s, post-Napster and pre-streaming, as a piracy-centric music alternative to the iTunes Store. Just as you could get free movies and software through BitTorrent, LimeWire allowed you to download audio files (usually at an incredibly slow pace). In 2010, the service was shut down by a federal injunction, and the company behind it paid $105 million to major record labels in an out-of-court settlement.
It’s remembered fondly, though. The rapper Soulja Boy – one of the first real internet-native musicians – famously used the platform to drum up interest in his first few singles. For those frustrated with the current structure of the music business, with its emphasis on algorithmic discovery and streaming monoliths, it’s not hard to find something appealing in the DIY clunkiness 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 being relaunched with a crypto twist. Purchases will be denominated in U.S. dollars, but it’s pitching itself as an OpenSea alternative, a kind of eBay for NFTs, with a focus on music-related collectibles. Julian told Bloomberg it will be “initially a very music-focused marketplace,” but left the door open for other kinds of NFTs down the line.
On Monday, LimeWire announced a partnership with the company behind the Algorand blockchain. In an attempt to get speculators on board, the company also plans to release a token (according to the company’s website, LMWR is already being sold to insiders on an invite-only basis).
What’s not clear is how the new LimeWire will distinguish itself from existing music NFT platforms. Sound.xyz, which launched in December, is explicitly focused on communal listening and monetization. Royal, led by the producer Justin Blau, offers song royalties via crypto. Catalog is a marketplace for one-of-one audio NFTs. And communities like Water & Music, Tiny Mix Tapes, Poolsuite and Sone are experimenting with the social side of music NFTs.
So far, LimeWire’s revival feels like pure gesturing, an attempt by these two entrepreneurs to piggyback on the file-sharing site’s reputation in the hopes of a quick payday.
And while cash grabs have always been par for the course in crypto, the attempt to resurrect an old, beloved brand under the auspices of Web 3 has become something of a trend in recent months.
Web 3’s a trend
RadioShack, the chain of electronics stores, filed for bankruptcy in 2015, but was resurrected in December as a decentralized exchange for cryptocurrencies. The self-help influencer Tai Lopez purchased the brand in 2020 and orchestrated the relaunch.
The proposition is that an older, more established brand is better positioned to hold the hands of mainstream consumers still getting a feel for these complicated new systems.
“Currently crypto has no well-known brands over even 15 years old,” announces one promotional document for the RadioShack relaunch. “Until now. It is our hypothesis that the best way for crypto to be more mainstream is for an established brand name in the tech space to lead the way.”
As it exists today, radioshack.org hosts what’s essentially an off-brand version of Uniswap, the leading decentralized exchange for Ethereum-based tokens. Within what appears to be a skeuomorphic radio interface, you can swap between ETH, USDC, USDT, MATIC and a few other coins.
Of course, you can also swap for RADIO, the cryptocurrency Lopez and his team have whipped up to promote this product (it’s currently trading at about 2 cents a pop).
As with LimeWire, there’s no clear reason for this zombie product to exist, except to lull potential customers into a false sense of security. But nostalgia won’t help you, in crypto. It’s difficult to imagine your average hardware junkie – i.e., the kind of person who might have wanted to shop at RadioShack in the ‘90s – feeling enticed by a program that lets you exchange one kind of obscure cryptocurrency for another. At least with LimeWire, the customer base already skews toward file sharers and privacy nerds.
There’s also MoviePass, a subscription-based ticketing service for movie theaters, which got big in 2018 on the back of its incredible sticker price: $10 a month for virtually unlimited screening at a variety of theaters. (One film per day, really, but who’s counting?) Being impossible to maintain, this price was also why the company folded in late 2019.
MoviePass hasn’t been scrapped and sold for parts in quite the same way as RadioShack and LimeWire, but it’s almost certainly planning to incorporate “the blockchain” into whatever it’s got planned for its resurrection.
During a press event last month, original MoviePass co-founder Stacy Spikes revealed, somewhat hilariously, that MoviePass 2.0 will involve eyeball-tracking software.
Spikes’s idea is that consumers want to spend more time watching advertisements than they do watching movies.
“I love product placement in movies,” Spikes said, per the New York Post. “I love the cars, I love the watches, I love the clothes. I’m that person that sometimes has a notepad and I’m writing down, is that Hugo Boss?”
As outlined by Spikes, MoviePass 2.0 will track your eyeballs using facial detection. If the software determines you’re really watching the ads, you’ll get credits; watching in-demand movies during primetime on the new service will require more of these credits. It’s all “powered by Web 3 technology,” which is to say, a blockchain with a crypto coin.
What is it about the blockchain that makes it such an appealing last resort? Can Web 3 really breathe new life into these once-beloved services, or is the idea of a blockchain pivot a kind of giving up in and of itself? Is the “ownership economy” narrative really that compelling?
Consumers can tell when something’s not quite right. 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 that reality than to go the “Weekend at Bernie’s” route.
LimeWire, RadioShack and MoviePass are three extremely different companies, offering extremely different products, even now. The blockchain has never been a one-size-fits-all solution; no good can come from recklessly jumping on the hype train.