It’s Like They Are Trying to Sell LESS Music

Longtime Readers will already be aware that I have been a longstanding critic of “Digital Rights Management” (DRM) — software attached to downloadable media (like music and video) to prevent you from making “unauthorized copies” of the downloaded content. Indeed, my second ever post on this blog was a blast at DRM.

I wrote that six years ago and DRM hasn’t gotten any more attractive since. DRM-encumbered content is so painful to use that I can’t in good conscience recommend that anyone spend their money on it. Say you buy a DRM-ed song from the iTunes Store, for example. Sure, it works on your iPod today. But what happens if two years from now you buy a new player from somebody other than Apple? Guess what, all your DRM-ed music won’t work on it. You’d have to buy it all again. Which would suck.

So I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the music label which has been perhaps the biggest backer of DRM — Sony BMG — was finally going to be selling digital downloads without any DRM associated with them.

I should have realized that Sony would find a way to screw this up, though, and they certainly appear to have done so. Turns out that the only way you can get a DRM-free download from Sony is to go to a retail store and buy a plastic card with a code you can redeem for the download.

Quoth Reuters:

Sony BMG, home to artists including Beyonce, Britney Spears and Celine Dion, said on Monday it will launch a gift card service on January 15 called Platinum MusicPass that will feature digital albums from its artists in the MP3 format. The format does not use DRM protection.

Fans will be able to buy the digital album cards in stores and download full-length albums from a MusicPass Web site after they type in an identifying number. The cards will be available at U.S. retail outlets such as Best Buy and Target…

And from the horse’s mouth:

SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT today announced the launch of Platinum MusicPass, a series of digital album cards that enable consumers to download full-length albums, and in many cases special bonus content, in the form of high-quality MP3 files…

The cards will be priced at a suggested list retail price (slrp) of $12.99 which will include the complete digital album plus bonus material or, in the case of compilations, extensive track listings. In order get the content from their MusicPass cards consumers scratch the back of their card to unveil their pin number. They then visit to download their music files and bonus material.

This may be the most retarded business idea I’ve ever heard.

I don’t have a problem with “music gift cards” per se. I can see there being value in providing people with a chance to “buy” songs for download at retail. But Sony isn’t using gift cards as an alternate sales channel, they are using them as the only sales channel. In other words, if you want to buy the DRM-free download, the only way to get it is by buying the gift card.

That means that, to buy a DRM-free album from a Sony artist, you have to follow these steps:

  1. Get off your ass and drive to a store that carries the cards
  2. Buy the card
  3. Take it home
  4. Scratch an area on the card to reveal your download code
  5. Go to a special Web site
  6. Type in the code on the card
  7. Download your album

Compare this to the experience of buying DRM-free albums from more intelligent labels at Amazon’s excellent MP3 downloads store, which requires only these steps:

  1. Go to
  2. Search for the album you want
  3. Click “Buy”
  4. Download your album

That’s it. No special codes, no trips to and from the mall, no “oh shoot I lost the card” nonsense. Just search, click, buy. And to top it off, albums at Amazon’s store are typically cheaper than a Sony card — Amazon usually charges $9 per album, compared to $13 for Sony. (Not to mention that Amazon is more convenient in other ways, too — like you can buy individual tracks off albums for 99 cents, for example, rather than having to buy the album as a whole.)

On what planet does that shit make any sense? I get to pay more for a product that’s less convenient? Huh?

C’mon, Sony. The other labels have finally realized that the way to make money in the 21st century is to give people the music they want in a convenient, hassle-free format. How long will it take for you to get with the program?

UPDATE (Jan. 10): Sony changes policy three days later, releases full catalog in DRM-free format for purchase through



January 7, 2008
1:44 pm

As to ” But what happens if two years from now you buy a new player from somebody other than Apple? Guess what, all your DRM-ed music won’t work on it. You’d have to buy it all again. Which would suck.”
According to Sony, you could Rip, I mean archive, music to CD
“What will happen to my music library (content I own)?
Customers’ existing SonicStage® music libraries are not at risk, but we recommend that customers archive their music libraries to audio CDs.”
One nit pick – you can buy DRM free music from iTunes, if its available, although when I browse, this seems to be a minority of the songs in the iTunes catalog.
Finally, the stupid gift card idea is just going to drive people to look for the Sony MP3’s on filesharing networks. Why go through the first scenario, when the song is likely availble on Napster, or whatever the kids are using today. 😉