Why It Won’t Work

Sony BMG spokesperson: We’re pleased to announce we are the final major music corporation to release electronic tracks without that pesky DRM! All you have to do is leave your house, go to a selected retail outlet, buy a special card there, go back to your house, scratch off the back of the card to find a code, go to our special MusicPass Web site, enter said code, and download one of the 37 titles we have available, from Celine Dion to the Backstreet Boys!

Kid #1: Or, in the time it takes me to jump through all those hoops, I could just download all 37 of those albums off of Pirate Bay.

Kid #2: Or, I could just scratch off the back at the store, record the pin number, go home and download the album through a Tor connection, so you can’t trace my IP number.

Kid #1: Also, what’s with this first slate of artists? Celine Dion? Backstreet Boys? Kenny Chesney? Barry Manilow? Are you high?

Sony BMG dude: They appeal to the sort of mainstream consumer who will see the convenience of our revolutionary music cards!

Kid #2: Like my mom? Dude, she’s not going to buy a card. She’s going to buy a CD. Because she’s at the CD store. Where she can buy CDs.

Sony BMG dude: They also make lovely gifts!

Kid #1: If she gets one as a gift, all she’s going to do is ask me how the heck she’s supposed to use it. And then she’s going ask me to get the download for her. Like I’m not busy. And you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to return the card for cash, and then I’m going to download the album off of Pirate Bay, because you’ve confused and upset my mom. And annoyed me.

Sony BMG dude: Uh.

Kid #2: So to recap, what you’ve got here is a system that makes people leave their house in order to download music at their house, and makes them go to a store to get music that they could get at the store, somewhere else.

Sony BMG dude: Er.

Kid #1: Why don’t you just sell non-DRM’d MP3s off Amazon, like every other major music corporation?

Sony BMG dude: Well.

Kid #2: You don’t actually want to sell unprotected MP3s, do you? You want to be able to say you’re doing it, but really, you want to make it so ridiculously inconvenient that people keep just keep buying CDs and DRM’d tracks off iTunes. Just admit it, bro.

Sony BMG dude (pointing): Look! It’s Celine Dion! And Barry Manilow! (runs away as kids avert their eyes in terror)

Poor, stupid deluded Sony BMG.

This MusicPass thing: six months at the outside.

87 Comments on “Why It Won’t Work”

  1. How terribly inconvenient. What bonehead thought up that one? Whichever bonehead it was, I’m sure he or she is making a lot more money than I am. Maybe I should be a bonehead.

  2. I’ve come to believe that the default mode of Sony (and all things Sony related) is 80% extremely stupid ideas, 15% missed opportunities, and 5% quality stuff that ends up really, really popular. This seems like an extremely stupid idea to try to shore up their last big and extremely stupid idea: partnering with a record company in 2004. I mean, really. Someone should just write “I destroyed kajillions in shareholder value in order to hang with Avril Lavigne” on their resume and be done with it.

  3. Later today, I’m interviewing for a movie that Sony BMG is producing. I want to go on record saying that everything Sony BMG does is golden genius shininess and everyone who works there is an exemplar of intellect and they all have that new baby smell or that new car smell (whichever you prefer).

    Shame on all of you naysayers.

  4. And those scratch the back of the card and get a code schemes? I received a $10 Itunes gift card for the holidays. Even with my glasses, these middle-aged eyes could not read all the characters. (And don’t even get me started on codes that incorporate both numerics and capitol letters with no way distinguish zeros from the letter O, and ones from the letter I.) So I took it to the twenty something that works in my office, and she couldn’t distinguish all the letters either. I finally just typed near guesses into Itunes until the application took pity on me and let me enter one of the other codes on the back of the card. I still don’t know if it was a K, A, 4 or something else that I couldn’t read.

  5. Well, you can say this about Sony: they make good hardware. Usually.

    Everything else? Every. Other. Thing. Turns to shit. At least as far as consumers go. I hear TV stations love Betamax to this day, and radio types love MiniDisc. But man, they just do not have the consumer angle figured out. They’re barely able to keep the video game console thing going strong, and they owned that market for years. Getting the shit kicked out of them there by the 183rd reincarnation of Mario and a console made by Microsoft that’s known to burn houses to the ground. (Okay, made that last bit up. Maybe.)

  6. Six months? You’re being generous.

    It truly boggles my mind how these companies are still in business, despite their habitual, bungling, truly clueless stupidity. I guess it’s those deep, deep pockets.

    You record company idiots keep doing your capitalist boogie, I’ll be hanging out over here with Thom Yorke and Trent Reznor, giving them my money.

  7. Hiya John, sorry to see a vacancy where you once wrote a great Journal. But I’m glad to see you left a link for your fans to follow.

    Anyway, Sony is missing the boat with this one…a music catalogue like theirs and they launch 37 titles? I’m not rushing to the store, especially for the selection.

    I always feel as though they’re telling us to line up like sheep to be fed when they make releases like this, you know?

  8. Sony hardware made in Japan is pretty good. Sony hardware made is China is crap. Always look for the country of origin with their stuff.

  9. Back when I was working at eMusic, one of the biggest headaches we dealt with was those goddamn pre-printed cards. No one could read them. Hell, the staff had trouble reading them.

    37 titles? jesus. Lame as hell.

  10. I’ll be curious to read the fine print on the cards when they come out. If they’re like other gift cards, they’ll time out after two years, so if you get/give one as a gift from/to Aunt Essie and it gets tossed in a desk drawer…

    Also, private to Nathan (if that is you): you’re right on about the new baby smell. Here’s a tip to cinch the job — when the interview is over, kiss the interviewer high on the forehead, just in front of their soft spot. You’ll both love it.

  11. I’d hate to think how much brainstorming and corporate wrangling went into this plan! That’s ludicrous.

  12. Am I the only one who thinks that Sony is like the anti-Apple? Apple takes average technology and puts a shiny UI on it, and people line up to hand over money that Apple has no reason demanding without wearing a mask and holding a gun. Sony, OTOH, takes the shiniest technology, puts an average face and cheap price tag on it, and then acts like the customers wear masks and wave guns.

  13. The nutty part is in a few months they will declare that there is no consumer interest in non-DRM tracks, or in downloading tracks at all because the program failed.

    Bottom line for most people music in general is over priced, music downloads are even more over priced than CDs. There is something seriously wrong with the business model when i can purchase the physical media at the store (with all the attendant overhead) cheaper than I can sit down at my computer and download the tracks from a music service.

    At best an entire album of music downloaded should cost perhaps half what the actual disc does.

    All told I am old school anyway I suppose I’d rather have the physical disc in hand. I can then rip the tracks to play back on my computer or Digital player.

  14. This is probably a bad idea.

    However companies that excel are the ones that try things out and see whether they work. As long as you don’t spend huge amounts of money on these things, occasionally you get a big success.

    Think of MacDonalds. They have lots of bad ideas. But for every McRib, McLean Deluxe, MacDonald’s Pizza, MacDonald’s Hotels (Yes they tried the Macdonald’s luxury hotel idea in Switzerland; it didn’t work), they have a Chicken McNugget.

    Companies that don’t make mistakes, or punish those who try things that might succeed but fail, end up being mediocre.


  15. BrettL @17 Sony, OTOH, takes the shiniest technology, puts an average face and cheap price tag on it, and then acts like the customers wear masks and wave guns.

    The problem with that thesis is that Sony puts an average face on it and then adds a premium price

  16. I liked the McRib, Personally I think that one tanked because:

    1. They used the wrong kind of bread it needed to be on a sub sized roll with a texture similar to the Big Mac Roll. They I seem to remember used a drier denser roll.
    2. It wasn’t meaty enough, the slab of meat needed to be at least twice as thick.

  17. Thanks for saving me the time by writing the post I was going to write.

    I can’t remember the last time I went in a store to buy music. I don’t know anyone who does (starbucks doesn’t count as a music store–yet). I’m too lazy to rip the drm-free CDs I already own. Why the hell would I go through this process for a card?

    Here’s the 37 album list:

    Alejandro Fernandez, Viento A Favor
    Alicia Keys, As I Am
    Avril Lavigne, The Best Damn Thing
    Backstreet Boys, UnBreakable
    Barry Manilow, The Greatest Songs of the Seventies
    Bob Dylan, Dylan
    Boys Like Girls, Boys Like Girls
    Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
    Britney Spears, Blackout
    Brooks & Dunn, Cowboy Town
    Bruce Springsteen, Magic
    Calle 13, Residente o Visitante
    Camila, Todo Cambio
    Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride
    Casting Crowns, The Altar and The Door
    Celine Dion, Taking Chances
    Chris Brown, Exclusive
    Daughtry, Daughtry
    Elvis Presley, Elvis 30 #1 Hits
    Jennifer Lopez, Brave
    John Mayer, Continuum
    Kenny Chesney, Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates
    Martina McBride, Waking Up Laughing
    P!nk, I’m Not Dead
    Santana, Ultimate Santana
    Sara Bareilles, Little Voice
    Sean Kingston, Sean Kingston
    The Fray, How To Save A Life
    Three Days Grace, One-X
    Tony Bennett, Duets

    So basically, they’re selling drm-free versions of stuff no one is interesting in stealing anyway. Actually, maybe that’s brilliant.

  18. I think #18 had it right on the nose. Sony BMG is going to declare that there’s no interest in non-DRM’d music right about the same time this program sinks into obscurity.

    On the other hand, if this program is an unlikely success, Sony BMG is just as likely to kill it for some other reason (not profitable enough!).

    On the gripping hand, nothing beats free off teh intartoobs.

  19. Mark DF at 23

    I know this list is dated because I recognize at least half the artists. Maybe they are going after the middle-aged group who can’t read their stupid little cards?

  20. Mark DF @ 23- I have to come to the defense of the one musician on there that’s actually worth a damn: Calle 13. Why they’re on there, I have no bloody idea (he sticks out like a sore thumb among the rest of the pop/geezer lineup, seeing as they’re puerto rican underground hip-hop—not reggaetón, mind you), but their stuff is excellent—socially-conscious and clever lyrics over well-crafted beats. Maybe Sony’s trying to push him onto a mainstream audience. . . . weird.

  21. Frankly, after Sony’s root kit debacle, I vowed never to buy anything from Sony again. This isn’t helping to change my mind.

  22. Bought a sony camera, it was great. It got stolen. Bought another newer model sony camera and it was crap. JPG only? WTF? Seems random to me.

    I’m not a big music junky so I’m not up to date. Haven’t all of the drm systems been hacked by now?

  23. Re: Mark’s Sony list — Anyone know if Barry Manilow is immodestly claiming his as the greatest songs of the ’70s, or is he covering “Squonk,” “The Streak,” and “The Rainbow Connection”?

  24. #6 Nathan (incognito) sayeth:

    […] Later today, I’m interviewing for a movie that Sony BMG is producing. I want to go on record saying that everything Sony BMG does is golden genius shininess and everyone who works there is an exemplar of intellect and they all have that new baby smell or that new car smell (whichever you prefer).

    Shame on all of you naysayers.

    Nathan, you are right; those who disagree are being harsh, dismissive poopyheads. Sony BMG can potentially sell billions, yes billions, of MusicPasses; all they require is a good marketing strategy, a catchy jingle for their advertisements — oh, and some promotional T-shirts to give away!

    To promote Sony BMG’s golden genius shininess, I submit the following advo stolen from inspired by the farting rainbows T-shirt:


    Sony BMG — Passing Music since 2004

  25. Sony’s smartest decision since they decided against licensing betamax technology to other manufacturers, thereby guaranteeing that VHS machines would vastly outsell beta.

  26. JJS, I thought that their smartest decision since betamax was the umpteen jillion layers of DRM on Blu-Ray, guaranteeing that anybody who wanted to use their HD technology was bankrupted before they could actually get a home theatre system together…

  27. This thing is shaping up like the NYT Select web-site. I’d pay to not hear most of those albums…(Which seem to be the 3rd best album by people with 2 good albums [if you’re into their brand of pop], for the most part.)

  28. I am middle-aged, and I recognize only four of the “groups.” (Not counting the few that make the gossip pages, like Britney Spears.) Dylan, Manilow, Presley, and Bennett. Can the others sing? (Not that Dylan can, but…)

  29. Oh, come on. Even if they picked all bands that you curmudgeons would recognize, it’s still a fucking stupid plan.

    No need to get all judgey on the type of music. You all sound like your parents.

  30. Sony, staunch backer of MPAA’s region-protection system in DVDs.

    Sony, major manufacturer of premium-priced region-free DVD players.

    Sony, manufacturer of slinky little MP3 players.

    Sony, creator of SonicStage software that can’t synchronize an MP3 player in anything less than a week due to bugs and a requirement that everything is converted to their ATRAC format.

  31. @38 Emily:

    I will feel free to kick pop-country musicians in their metaphorical nuts until they start signing decent artists to major labels. Down with faux-k.

  32. @Brett L:

    Far be it from me to stand between a critic and his critique, but I wasn’t talking about you. I’m talking about the “gosh darn, I don’t recognize but one or two names on that list!” and “new music is crap, why would anyone bother buying it anyway” attitudes.

  33. My best guess: Haplo Peart is right, this is just a sacrificial goat that will be carted around the village and then loudly killed to great fanfare. “We tried non-DRM digital music,” some suit will say to the interviewer from Wired, “and nobody bought it. We’re men not Shmoos!


    If you look at the press release John linked to, there is a way this could sort of work. They’re putting these things in Targets and Winn-Dixies. They’re small and colorful like gift cards. They take up far less space than jewel boxes.

    So you don’t put them in the music section (if the store even has one: for those of you in the wrong part of the country, Winn-Dixie is a chain of grocery stores). You put them in the checkout aisle, next to candy bars, phone cards, glasses-repair kits and other impulse buys. So it’s not, “I went to Target to pick up the new Celine Dion MusicPass card,” it’s “I was at Target getting kitty litter and the line was taking forever and I saw this Tony Bennett music-download thing next to the Altoids and thought. what the hell?” or “I was getting napkins for the Christmas party and saw a stocking-stuffer for my mom.”

    That could actually work: an impulse buy with low overhead and huge profit margins.

    In the unlikely event it does work, it might only endure as a niche product. But if they did take off, I have no doubt retailers like Target would be thrilled to double the size of their music stock while halving the floor space–in a sense, that’s who MusicPass is really aimed at: retailers, not consumers.

    I might be wrong, but I suspect few of the people commenting here buy much (if any) of their music from supermarkets and general stores (I could be wrong; I’m only guessing). I don’t, for what it’s worth. If that’s the case, we’re not the audience for these things, anyway, and we won’t have much to do with whether it succeeds or fails.

  34. An Eric:

    “That could actually work: an impulse buy with low overhead and huge profit margins.”

    They’re still doing it wrong, then, because they could just as easily, in more or less the same form factor, give people USB memory sticks which would cut out the middleman of having to download off a site. It wouldn’t be that much more expensive to produce.

  35. @BrettL

    A UI isn’t just some shiny overlay. From a user’s perspective, it’s the most important aspect of this technology. Pure functionality is no good, if it’s buried under a pile of junk. Look at all the unused features on consumer products for an illustration of that.

    The fact that Apple realizes that it’s the UI that’s important to users, and that the rest of the technology is just a commodity, is why they attract such loyal fans like myself.

    Most companies think like engineers: The look at what the engine can do, not on how fun the product is to drive.

    Sony’s problem is that they focus on UI *style* and not UI *design*. (A “UI” can be hardware as well as software. The interface of a mug is its handle.) Sony’s products usually look great. Apple’s usually work great, with style flowing from design.

    (I know all about the horrors of puck mice and QT 4, don’t remind me.) What I mean is: If Apple makes a really simple product, it’s because they’ve determined that the product is easier to use and more fun without all the excess functionality. Sony will make things minimal just because they think minimal looks cool. There’s a big difference.

  36. Now I personally am not going to buy one of these seeing as after the Rootkit debacle I declared I would never buy a Sony thing again ever. But like Rob Marquardt @44 says the price here is the real insult. Cost of CD $15. Cost of this scratch and sniff card $12.99 plus finding a CD to burn it on plus time. Excuse me. Or ruder words.

    $6.99 might – possibly if I liked the music etc etc – be a reasonable deal. $12.99 is just a urinectomy

  37. I fail to see how tricking millions of people into giving them money is a stupid idea. Evil, yes. But stupid? Some companies survive for decades, even centuries, doing nothing but blatantly ripping people off. They’ll sell millions of these to millions of unsatisfied customers, then discontinue the service, pocket the cash, and the stupid consumers won’t even remember which megacompany it was that ripped them off in the first place. Consumers will blame Barry Manilow.

  38. My illustrious employer decided a couple of years ago to set up e-commerce to sell their cell phone service. Except they had no automated provisioning or fulfillment. So, you could sign up and pay, but then you had to go into the retail store to finish account setup and pick up your phone.

    Thank goodness it wasn’t one of my projects to manage, I would have been embarrassed.

    I think that #19 – Haplo Peart – is right on. They will design it to fail, then point to it as a lack of consumer interest in the product.

  39. The more I think about it, the more I think they’re doing it right.

    Yeah, I’m surprised, too.

    See, it’s not about benefiting the consumer. It doesn’t matter whether the consumer can actually conveniently download the music as long as enough people buy the cards to make the venture profitable. These are the music industry’s version of gift cards–and part of the profitability of gift cards is that money has been spent even if the gift card lies in a bottom drawer until it expires or gets used to within a nickel of its value and then thrown away with spare change on it.

    Would I buy one? No, but I’m not the target market. The target market is one of my technically clueless relatives who is going through the checkout lane at a supermarket near Christmastime and says, “Hey, Eric loves computer stuff and Bruce Springsteen, I bet he’d love this Bruce Springsteen-computer thing.” Or a computer-illiterate friend who doesn’t quite get what the “deal” is with iTunes who sees a $12.98 music “download” that seems familiar and comfortable because it’s made of cardboard: if he has trouble punching the code in later, it’s probably his fault for not being good with computers.

    I have no idea whether this will be a success or not: but I do think Mencken was right that “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people,” except that we’re really talking about technical literacy more than intelligence. We’re not the target audience for these things: we’re talking about digital music distribution[1] on a science-fiction[2] writer’s blog[3]–I work with a dozen highly-intelligent, well-educated people with post-grad degrees who wouldn’t last 30 seconds on any one of those three points, and I wouldn’t be shocked if one of them bought a MusicPass.

    You’re acting like it’s about selling music when it’s really about getting someone to spend thirteen bucks on a piece of cardboard that costs less than a penny to manufacture. (And as cheap as flash memory may be, a USB stick still costs fractionally more to produce and shelve. Not to mention the fact that they’re kinda ugly and have some kinda weird abbreviation and I’m not sure if my computer has ussbuh and did I plug it into the right hole?)

    (Y’know, I’ve had to advise two of the smartest attorneys I know about their new MP3 players, and one of them expressed anxiety over whether she had her new iPod correctly plugged into her laptop. It only plugs in the one way. This is an extremely intelligent, well-educated woman–but she’s not a computer geek.)

  40. An Eric:

    “It doesn’t matter whether the consumer can actually conveniently download the music as long as enough people buy the cards to make the venture profitable.”

    Well, I believe people might buy the cards once, either for themselves or for a gift. But once it becomes clear to them that it’s hassle, that’s it. Which is why I give it a max of six months — that’s how long it takes for it to filter through that this is more trouble than it’s worth.

  41. #35: Arachne, I had not considered the possibility than Nathan might be joking, as I have no sense of humor whatsoever.¹ Apologies for the confusion.

    ¹ I have been diagnosed with Nichtlachen-Keinwortz syndrome.

  42. Not that it counts: the McRib is still alive in here in Germany :)

    They cant offer their music online without DRM. If they would, everybody with access to the internet would pay the same price. Thats not what they want. A CD costs about 13€ in Germany. For those of you who dont know: thats “slightly” more than 13$ ;)

    They want us to pay what we are able/willing to pay. This strategy is called skimming and as old as it is evil. Or clever, if you are the seller.

  43. Nathan (icognito) wrote “Later today, I’m interviewing for a movie that Sony BMG is producing. I want to go on record saying that everything Sony BMG does is golden genius shininess…”

    Yes, but to see that movie I’m going to have to go to the theater, buy a card, take the card home, scratch off a number, put the number into a field on a website, print out the tickets, then go back to the theater to find a seat.

  44. Christopher @ 32 & 55,

    It never occurred to me that you might not be joking and I’m still gonna assume you were. (I rarely see the word poopyhead used in the more serious posts.)

    I was not joking at all about the interview part….the rest?

    Scopi @57

    My (as yet potential), involvement in this movie (and the paychecks) will stop months before you’re forced to demonstrate how badly you want to see it, so, no offense, but I don’t care. Don’t see it. Wait for netfilx. Wait for the chopped up version on network TV. I won’t care. Bwa-ha-ha-ha.

    ::still joking::

  45. Gosh, I thought Sony had used up all it’s stupid on their rootkit fiasco last year, among other things. And that’s not even to mention, in a different department, the PS3, in reference to which a Best Buy employee I spoke to recently said “Pretty soon we’re gonna have to start using them to prop up displays, because we don’t have anywhere to put them all.”

    Worst managed tech company? Certainly in the running.


  46. Whoa, yeah, I didn’t think the cuecats managed to mate with anything, but apparently, they did . . . though how it did it with whatever demon comes up with Sony’s bone headed ideas is beyond me . . . but it necessarily involved the ps/2 port . . . .

  47. We’re nerds. We’re not the ones they’re selling these cards to. Maybe they won’t last–but if they don’t, it won’t be because they’re hard to use, it will be because of the solid comfort the average consumer has with a CD.

    Did any of you read the press release? They’re selling these as gift cards and possibly collectibles. They don’t care if you scratch off the back to get at the code: matter of fact, they’d be happy if a customer bought a $13 picture of Celine Dion and never used the code at all, because getting to it would damage the card and depreciate its value. Better yet would be the consumer who buys two, one for the download, and one to put in a plastic sleeve.

    Will they take off? Well, hell, I’m a lifelong gamer who remembers making fun of Magic: The Gathering players when I was in college. Now TSR is deader than Jacob Marley and those card players own Dungeons And Dragons, go figure. I’ve encountered people who collect phone cards, don’t ask me to explain it, I’m just telling you what I’ve seen. And maybe I shouldn’t sound so incredulous: one of my best friends from junior high school parlayed his comics collection into a part-time business.

    If this was about music, it would be stupid as hell. If this were about the internet and downloadable media, same deal. But this is about the cardboard, and selling an idea to people who are really kinda scared of computers, or at least uncomfortable with them. MusicPass gives people who aren’t computer savvy something that’s vaguely familiar, like a phone card or gift card. And it gives retailers who aren’t in the music business something they can hang from a hook with the other impulse items next to the register. A cheat? A ripoff? Sure, just like the gift cards worth 85% of face value and the overpriced phone cards and the plastic sack of leathery beef jerky that mostly holds air and crumbs.

    A little brilliant, especially if it works?

    I hate to say it, but yeah. Yeah, it is.

  48. An Eric, I think you’re maybe a little bit high. I would be very surprised to see them take off, as a collectible or anything else. But we’ll see.

  49. I wish I were high, that would be more fun.

    Like you said, we’ll see. I won’t be surprised either way, or if they split the difference and become a niche product.

    If I had to predict, I’d predict fail or niche. But I’m not the target market for these things. And, being a geek, I don’t always understand how the “normal” mind works–why someone would rather see Wild Hogs than Stardust, let’s say, or would prefer iTunes to Winamp, or why someone would think NOVA was a boring TV show. But the numbers I’ll say I’m on the lunatic fringe. I can, however, imagine stacks of these things hanging next to the magazine rack at the supermarket, and that’s when I see what they’re trying to do, and that if it fails it won’t be because the average Joe or Jane (who, seriously, can barely work an iPod) uses his or her mad 133t h4k0rz skilz to leech a torrent of FLACs.

    Oh, and as for collectibles: let me emphasize, that’s their press release–I have no idea whether that will work for them, but it’s something they’re aiming for, and it’s not really dumber than collectible phone cards or some of the other crap that people obsess over.

  50. Yup, the folks at Sony are clueless losers, but what did you expect? They’re still trying to figure out why everyone was so upset about the rootkit.

  51. Uh, wearing another hat I write a music blog and I buy a lot of new music. (And all obtained with strict respect for IP–no Pirate Bay here.) So I’m taking a step back to ask: why is DRM-free music supposed to be such a big deal? It’s already very easy to get. For indies, eMusic and PayPlay have everything DRM-free. Amazon has tons of albums DRM-free and the rest a one-click away from my postal mailbox. If I play an album, iTunes or WMPlayer will rip it practically whether I want them to or not–presto, a dozen DRM-free tracks ready-stuffed into the app I use to put them on my MP3 player, with the tech-fearful most likely getting automagic syncing into their iPod (and the automagic backup of having the original CD on the shelf).

    I don’t get this part of it. The business model of money sunk into cards that are never cashed in, saving space in bricks-and-mortar retail outlets, all that–that I get.

    I do wonder why Target doesn’t offer MP3 kiosks right next to their “stick your flash card in here and get pictures printed out” kiosks. It would be simple enough to burn a CD on the spot, scribe a label, and spit out a little cover-art sheet, envelopes in a dispenser. With empty jewel cases available for a small price on a nearby shelf. Or just give the option of loading the music OUT onto your flash card. Browsing, sampling, logging on to your “Target partners with CBS/Last.fm” account to get your recommendations on the spot, whatever. Even integrated with your Sony/BMG gift cards! Stick the card in and presto-spitto, an album appears.

    Are we waiting for a generation to die in the wilderness?

  52. 3 notes:
    1, the scratchable gift-cards are probably about the same price to physically produce as a CD. With the serious industrial CD pressing machines those things cost amounts very close to nothing. A price that will eventually increase as petroleum to derive plastics goes over $100/barrel (OOPS! Never mind!)
    2, They would be starting in the right direction if the cards weren’t tied to a particular album, as far as shelf-space goes. But, there already exist iTunes prepaid cards, and they work, because people already use iTunes… But anyway, I’d imagine that “the impulse buy” racks are actually the hardest on the store-manager’s brain. (Because they work, it’s important for them to put the stuff that works best there, rather than just anything that works there, y’know?)
    3, is it collectable? Well… for fans of sufficient fervor, anything is collectable. Not so much in the “depreciate it’s value” vein, but the “My altar is no longer complete” variety of collection. Whether or not people download the music is, of course, 100% irrelevant. Do you think the bandwidth of the download, or the wear on their hard-drive is actually a noticeable amount? Whatever sort of royalty agreement they’ve made with their artists about this will be related to the sale of the card, not the download of the album… unless of course this system is so convoluted because it carefully sidesteps all the royalty agreements, and Sony’s legal team has figured out that this particular path is non-prosecutable! Wouldn’t that be a coup! Except of course that nobody’s going to buy them anyway… So, now that I mention it, it does sidestep royalties, because it deftly sidesteps sales

  53. Scott:

    Indeed, it brings up the interesting point of when an artists royalties are activated — when the card is purchased, or the tracks downloaded.

  54. sony can be innovative. but i never thought they can be so stupid as well! that is terribly inconvinient. yeah, lets just download those crappy songs from crappy artist off from a file sharing software. *pft*. why bother.

  55. Manny said “I do wonder why Target doesn’t offer MP3 kiosks right next to their “stick your flash card in here and get pictures printed out” kiosks. It would be simple enough to burn a CD on the spot”

    I received a gift of a CD compiled in a music store (Tower Records??) with a whole bunch of my favorite songs on it from various artists, and a nice label was printed on the spot too, listing all the tracks. Very cool and still a fave of mine… even though this was given to me almost 25 years ago. Have we gone so far backwards in tech we can’t do that any more? Oh wait… there aren’t any music stores left…

  56. – Do NOT diss Barry Manilow

    – The McRib is back. Just like Barry.

    In fact, I’m listening to Barry right now while eating a McRib. Yummy goodness all the way around.

  57. John @71: you know the answer to that one! It’s a reserve against return (i.e., until downloaded). If book publishers do it that way, there’s no way music distributors are going to pay artists until the cash has gone through the rinse cycle.

    re: the list: I think the list is likely constructed based on demographics. The interesting thing to note is that the target age market for these titles skews older than the consumer market, with a couple of sops thrown in for the younger crowd that the older crowd will at least recognize. In other words, the program is primarily targeting a market that likely doesn’t “steal” music.

    As has been mentioned, I think it’s designed to give Sony a crutch to say they tried and it didn’t work. But, more to the point, the audience for that message is not kids who are theoretically destroying the market by downloading but an older audience that is more likely to influence the legal direction of downloading (which isn’t college kids). Get those folks to see an alternative to downloading that they can (vaguely) understand, and the music distributors are able to acquire allies for their dying business models.

  58. C.Webb @ 73
    A half dozen years later I went to a music store and got cassette tapes written with songs of my choice, colored labels, an album title of my own choice, the liner notes had song & artist names and even the option to include pointless sound-effects! I have an album with several songs I’ll not mention, but the second side concludes with the sound of a large explosion. I really thought THAT was clever when I was 10…
    I believe the system was called “Personics,” I don’t remember the $/song, but it must have been low, because I used it at a time when I didn’t especially care about music and my allowance was $2/week… (iirc, a tape had a minimum of 3 actual song-tracks)

    And my point is “Yes, of course technology has been going backward.” Plus, I’m sure licensing is much more complicated now, because the record companies are rather more worried about what they let who do and how, and they have significantly more de-facto legal rights to protect (thanks DMCA, you’re the gift that keeps on giving… power to the people most likely to discourage people from becoming intellectual property creators)

  59. #76: Scott, your memory is quite accurate. According to this source, cost was about US$1.25/song. Somewhere, enshrined in a dusty box of Olde Stuff I Haven’t Thrown Out, a relic of that system awaits the light of a new millenium.¹

    IIRC, the Personics system debuted circa 1984; the timing suggested a last-ditch effort to sweep back the tidal wave of consumers shifting to CDs as the medium-of-choice for audio. Oddly enough, when the equivalent CD-based technology appeared <1 year later, the most common reaction I witnessed was “so what? Tower / LicoricePizza / SamGoody / $RandomVendor already has one of them Perfunky, er Pretunic, no Parabolic — y’know, one of those custom music thingamies. Who needs two of them?”

    ¹ Given to me by an astronomer friend, so I never learned its price.

  60. Sony is a case study for Ted Sturgeon’s law cross-bred with the Strive For Excellence philosophy.

    99% of everything is crap.

    Sony succeeds at Excellence in everything they do.

    Therefore, 99 percent of what they do is not just crap, but spectacularly, profoundly, stupidly crap.

    And the other 1 percent is really really good.

  61. Just wanted to say that I’m linking to this, ’cause it CRACKED ME UP that it was the first thing I found on the ‘net when I was searching for “Musicpass”. I work at FYE (don’t hate the player, just the game), and we’d gotten an e-mail yesterday about this “exciting new service” that our customers would basically be knocking the doors down to get their hands on…I’d heard of this Sony BMG crapfest but didn’t know that it was the same thing.

    Don’t forget: Sony BMG also cooked up the whole “Ringle” thing a few months ago. If you don’t know what the heck a Ringle is, it was basically this: a CD single with a Ringtone built into it. The singles contained anywhere from 2 to 4 songs on them as usual and would have retailed for about $4.99/$5.99 and would include 1 or 2 ringtones and a desktop wallpaper for your phone (whoo-hoo!). Anyway, there was some kind of problem with them (maybe, the fact that they didn’t work with all phones/phone services? or that the CD sleeves didn’t list which phones/phone services they DID work with? Or that the initial titles were just as middle of the road as those above?)

    Anyway, we’d gotten a bunch of them in a HUGE shipment in early October for a launch date of late October. I was horrified when I opened the boxes and realized what they were (initial press releases had mentioned only Best Buy and Wal-Mart as the retailers carrying these things). I was the only one in the store who’d heard of them. About a week before they were supposed to launch, we got e-mails in the store telling us to hold off on them because there was some sort of “technical” problem with them and we were going to be sending them back. We sent them back about a week later and haven’t heard them mentioned again. I gather that part of the “technical” problem was the backlash on the blogosphere and I’m sure that this Musicpass thing will be just as stillborn (especially in lieu of the Sony BMG/Amazon deal)…

  62. I have all the songs I want already. Why should I buy this come on. What were they thinking. I have only one thing to say. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

  63. okay well i got a 15$ itunes giftcard for chirstmas but when i go to enter the code it says i have to log into itunes and i dont have an account and i dont have acredit card so i cant make one? what do i do?

  64. instead of wasting money on rubbish like this SonyBMG should be spending money on recruiting new and innovative artists. Ditch the old and embrace the new and exciting, nobody wants fucking rehashes of Celine Dion, no one gives a shit about Jessica Simpson’s little sister…hell no one gives a shit about Jessica Simpson….Stop trying to hang onto your little bit of demographic you have left, stop counting on 12 year olds to beg their parents for stupid fucking sound cards and CD’s. You look desperate, Sony, get some of your dignity back and embrace the music not the cash.

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