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Picture on the plastic, music on the machine.   (Source: Sony BMG Music Entertainment)
Sony BMG kills the DRM but burden's customers by clinging to an outdated business model

Although referred to as a “digital album card” in Sony’s press release, the Platinum MusicPass itself is a just piece of plastic, a manifestation of major record labels’ yearning for the past. Sony BMG is attempting to walk a line between appeasing their customers and breathing life into the classic business model of selling physical copies of whole albums.

The album cards, which have been called “highly collectable,” contain no music. They are more like gift cards but without all the options. After purchasing the card customers can access the album by scratching the back of the card to unveil a PIN. They then go to MusicPass.com and enter the PIN to access their album. Purchasing a MusicPass is like buying a scratcher lotto ticket that is guaranteed to win.

The terms and conditions of redeeming your winnings have not been spelled out yet. It is unclear how many times a single PIN can be used to download an album from the website, nor is it clear whether the tracks will contain digital watermarks or other anti-piracy features.

What is unique about the Platinum MusicPass, besides the nifty plastic card, is that it appears to lock costumers into buying whole albums. In the download age, some have questioned whether the album is still a relevant format for delivering music. Purchasing albums means the customer must pay for songs they might not enjoy. Selling albums is beneficial to record labels in that it helps them profit from unpopular songs. It is also good for musicians who must recoup recording costs through their royalties.

The practice also disinclines customers from purchasing albums with only a few good songs. Either way Sony’s Platinum MusicPass is clearly an effort to adapt the old business model, i.e. full-length physical albums, to new media.

If the Platinum MusicPass seems like a paradoxical idea, it also sounds like one. An enthused Best Buy VP said they were “happy to be participating in the launch of a new physical format of digital music for retail.”   Even this spin statement sounds silly and the new physical format of digital music sounds like an unnecessary barrier between consumers and their music. 

Although it is good news for consumers that Sony is moving away from DRM, it is hard to believe that many digital music customers will be drawn to this program. The constraints of the old music business model are seem likely to turn-off people who are used to choosing when and how many songs to download.

Of course you can’t fault the record labels for trying to beat a dead horse because the current alternative looks even more bleak in their eyes. In a world were no money is made from selling music, artists are paid nothing for their art and must earn their living through commercial appearance and branded content…





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