I was a bit doubtful of “PlayNow” when it first appeared on my radar. I’m still not convinced that it’ll suddenly persuade everything that it’s worth buying music again, but the deal is slightly sweeter than it originally appeared to be.
It’s a subscription service, just as I predicted, and it comes fully wrapped in DRM, as you’d expect. What I didn’t expect is that when your subscription ends it’ll let you keep a few tracks, DRM-Free. It’s unclear how many (some sites are saying 20, some 100, some 300) but at the 100-and-upward point, that becomes not-too-shabby a deal.
Let’s make some basic assumptions here – let’s assume music costs 79p a track, and they let you keep the mid-point of 100 tracks. That’s basically Sony Ericsson handing you a music gift voucher of £79. Not too bad. But some reports are claiming that it’ll be your “top tracks” that you get to keep. Your top tracks are almost certainly going to be the ones you own on CD already, i.e. you already own them in a DRM-free format, and could easily convert them to MP3 anyway. In which case, you’re getting almost nothing.
No word on how much the subscription will cost. Likely it’ll be bundled in with your price plan, so you pay the same amount but get fewer calls or minutes each month and all the music you can download. I’m not enormously excited about “Comes With Music” and I’m not enormously excited about “PlayNow”. Both will have their fans, but over time their limits will be revealed.
Most of all, it’s a near-certainty that both won’t last more than ten years or so. Even if you did keep that subscription going for ten years, then eventually they’ll turn the servers off and *pop* goes your music collection. Gone. Nothing to annoy your kids with. Nothing to prove that you had one of the first copies of the first Electric Six album, who by then will be straddling the world like U2 do today.
Music subscription services are great in theory, but cost far too much for what you get. A la carte services also cost too much, but at least you get to keep something at the end of it. My recommendation? Download as much new music as you can from wherever you like, but make an effort to find new bands, and go to the gigs, and buy the tshirts. If there’s an album you love, get a physical copy. If there’s a band you adore, tell your friends about them. Make them buy the tshirts and go to the shows. That’s what’ll sustain the industry, not lining Nokia, Apple, or Sony Ericsson’s pockets.
For more on digital music, keep an eye out every Tuesday afternoon for my regular feature on digital music, Noise Gate.