Microsoft’s new tagline:
“THIS time it plays for sure! Honest!”
Retailers from Amazon to Real have launched their own DRM-free MP3 music stores in recent years. Faced with the competition, Apple finally put the last nail in the coffin of á la carte music DRM earlier this month with the iTunes Store, but don’t tell Microsoft. The world’s largest software maker just launched a mobile phone-based music store in the UK that charges nearly twice the price for media while offering even fewer rights.
Dubbed MSN Mobile Music and tied to Microsoft’s MSN Mobile portal, the service offers over one million songs and 10,000 videos to UK cell phone users from the big four labels. MSN Mobile Music was launched in partnership with VidZone Digital Media and offers songs for $2.07 (£1.50), ringtones for $4.05 (£3), and videos for $2.77 (£2). These prices include a fairly steep premium over the standard 99¢ charged for most MP3s, though MSN Mobile Music is compatible with over 130 handsets.
While MSN Mobile Music has the advantage of broad device compatibility, it is quite possibly the most limiting media store yet to be introduced. Not only are purchased items locked to the mobile handset they were purchased on, but they cannot be transferred to another device or backed up on a PC. On the bright side, however, a support document at the MSN Mobile site states that “When you purchase the music, you get unlimited plays for the content whilst it remains on the device.” Oh boy!
MSN Mobile Music is certainly not the only DRM-laden music or media store in town still. Many stores that offer “all you can download” subscriptions—including Microsoft’s Zune Marketplace and Nokia’s cell phone-based Comes With Music—use DRM to prevent users from signing up for just a month and making off with thousands of songs. But even these subscription services offer better terms than MSN Mobile Music, as the Zune Marketplace allows customers to keep ten tracks each month, and Comes With Music tunes will continue to play even after one’s subscription runs out.
In an interview with PC Pro, Hugh Griffiths, Head of Mobile at Microsoft UK, attempted to explain Microsoft’s position on MSN Mobile Music. “It’s a first step,” Griffiths explained in response to why Microsoft went with DRM. “We’re doing this in conjunction with a third-party provider. We’ll be looking to enhance the service if we get some interest from consumers.” Griffiths goes on to explain that there is “a whole bunch of people” who are “very loyal” to MSN on the web and so it was a natural evolution to introduce a store. Microsoft is also “constantly reviewing” its pricing policy and will look to amend it if need be. Perhaps a little more review before releasing the service could have saved Microsoft a lot of post-launch work.
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