Yesterday's announcement that Nokia would offer unlimited Universal downloads to cell buyers for 12 months caused rapturous applause from some analysts and music fans. But as the old adage says, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is; and Nokia's "Comes With Music" program is clearly poised to cause consumer confusion and disappointment.
TRACKS ARE LOCKED INSIDE THE DEVICE -
While cell buyers will be able to keep the tracks they grab during their initial 12 months, the songs will come heavily laden with DRM courtesy of Nokia owned Loudeye that allows transfer to a PC, but prevents CD burning or transfer to other portable devices. In essence the "free" tracks are locked inside your cell phone. What the devices will cost, how many tracks they will hold and what happens to your music collection when you get a new phone - even if from Nokia - remains unclear.
UNIVERSAL SAYS THIS IS THE FUTURE-
None of this uncertainty stopped Universal from being the first label to jump on board. "This is how the consumers will consume music going forward. This is a step towards where this business we believe will be moving to in two to three years time," Universal's SVP of Digital Rob Wells told Reuters. "Consumers will have access to all the recorded music available through the price of the device, or the price of service, or the price of broadband." Without providing details of the deal Wells said, "Unless there was enough money for the world's biggest record company we would have not agreed to the deal."
Some label execs are beginning fear that younger music buyers are completely out of the habit of paying for music. So Universal's Doug Morris has recently been touting a plan called "Total Music" that would have device manufacturers (cells, portable players, etc.) pay a tax to labels for similar access songs.
THE CONCEPT IS D.O.A. -
"Comes With Music" appears to be Nokia's proprietary iteration of the concept. Sadly if device manufacturers each want to tie a consumer only to their product line and Morris' plan includes the draconian DRM that Nokia promises, neither plan will gain traction or do anything to solve the music industry's woes.
AND HOW DOES THE ARTIST GET PAID?
What formula does Morris intend to use to share these payments with artists and songwriters? Is a tightly tethered download worth less than an mp3? Is it worth more than when downloaded from a subscription service? These are uncharted waters not covered in any of the tens of thousands of existing recording contracts and will lead to litigation. But Nokia and Doug Morris don't care. They've seen the future.