Just when it looks like the major labels have finally decided to give consumers what they really want by selling DRM-free music, Sony BMG comes along with a totally
innovative harebrained scheme that could have only be hatched by the minds that brought you spyware infected audio CDs.
Sony BMG is the last of the major labels still clinging to DRM as a means of protecting digital content. However, it’s now being widely reported that Sony will begin selling DRM-free album downloads later this month. More precisely, the label will begin selling trading cards that include a PIN that can be used to download music. Oh, and the cards will only be available through traditional retail outlets.
That’s right, to download one of Sony BMG’s new DRM free albums, you’ll need to log off your computer, leave your house, find a retailer that’s actually selling the cards, find a parking spot, buy the damn thing, then drive home to download the album (note the use of the world ‘album’, Sony apparently won’t be selling individual tracks).
Could this plan possibly be any worse? Well, yes, actually it could be worse. These aren’t generic gift cards that entitle you to download any album in the Sony BMG catalog. Instead, each card is tied to a specific album and features a photo of the artist. So even if you manage to find a retailer that is selling Sony BMG download cards, there’s a good chance they won’t have a card for the album you’re looking for.
At first glance, it appears that Sony has found a way to eliminate one of the key business advantages of digital music. One of the many ways that digital music will revolutionize the recording industry is by eliminating the overhead involved in manufacturing and distributing physical inventory. While most businesses would embrace the opportunity to increase profits while eliminating inventory, Sony apparently prefers its products to be available in limited quantities.
After thinking about this a bit, I’ve actually begun to wonder if these gift cards might actually be an ill advised attempt to maintain traditional music industry accounting practices. You can bet that the printing and distribution of these download cards is a recoupable expense that will be charged back to the artists (at a healthy markup, no less). Bean counters at Sony BMG are probably slapping each other on the back because they finally figured out a way to justify charging their artists manufacturing costs for individual downloads.
With any luck this will be a short and painful experiment that is killed quickly when Sony announces a major deal with Amazon’s mp3 store.
In the meantime, this plan will undoubtedly become a memorable part of Sony BMG’s canon of music industry innovations.