OPINION: Sony Ericsson's "PlayNow" service is a little better than it first appeared

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sony-ericsson-logo333.jpgI 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.

Sony Ericsson

Related posts: Amazon Music Store UK to launch next month | 7digital sign up Sony and go 100% DRM-free in their digital music store

Duncan Geere

6 comments

  • Apparently the most successful music subscription service in the UK is Omnifone’s Music Station, which currently sits ahead of both Napster and eMusic in subscriber numbers.

    I was a MusicStation subscriber and was perfectly happy to accept the DRM/ownership limitations in return for access to a genuinely huge catalogue on my 3G mobile.

    Bad news is that Vodafone are stopping adding compatible handsets – presumably because they’re cooking up their own, slightly worse, service.

    It seems the obvious step to me: mobile devices have the connectivity to allow spur of the moment downloading, as opposed to the current sit-at-PC model.

    • I believe that it’s Omniphone that will be powering Sony Ericsson’s new service. That might be why they’re phasing out the Vodafone deal…

  • Sony’s service 🙂 Yet again it’s the music industry trying to sell people what they want them to buy, not what the people would want to buy.

    The problem with subscription services is that the labels think they’re an obviously great idea but customers keep not taking them up on it.

    The last subscription service with any success was eMusic’s all-you-can-eat plan for unlocked MP3s, and that was in 2001 (and only for independent labels). Since 2001 they’ve sold you a “subscription” of X tracks a month. (I’m a happy customer.)

    Customers really really hate DRM. iTunes is the only service that gets away with it.

    • I’m not sure even iTunes gets away with it effectively. Just wait until they eventually turn off the iTunes activation servers and the almighty shitstorm that ensues…

      I’m a big fan of eMusic’s offering too, though I don’t personally subscribe because I like a lot of major-label stuff too. I do like their X tracks a month style, though. I asked 7digital’s chairman about it the other day, and he said it’s his favourite, too.

  • The usual rubbish. “Pay, er, PlayNow Plus is completely unlimited, covers all major labels, no DRM, get all you want any time you like! This is the biggest deal in mobile music ever! Of course, it’ll only play for the duration of the contract, all songs then disappearing. Well, just a little DRM. Honest.” Etc.

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