Sony DRM-free downloads require a store visit first

Further proof, as if any is required, that the music industry is the corporate dinosaur of this century:

To download any of the 37 DRM-free albums Sony is begrudgingly releasing January 15, fans must first go to a Best Buy or Target store, buy a $12.99 plastic card, scrape the ink off a “secret number”, then locate a special website and enter the number.

Then, and only then, can the album be downloaded.

And if that isn’t enough of an enticement to get you to unplug your iPod and walk in a store, some of the albums have “bonus materials” that you can buy and download for an additional $19.95 per album!

And while Alicia Keys and Sara Bareilles are among the first 37 albums, I can only guess that Tony Bennett, Santana, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan are on the list only because their sales have peaked (or maybe so grandparents looking for a quick gift see names they recognized).

So, let’s sum this up.

Sony had the chance to pass a CD to Amazon or Apple, let them handle the hassle and expense of the transaction and the bandwidth of the download, but passed it up because… it didn’t feel right, it put control in someone else’s hands, what?

Instead they decided to print plastic cards, each with a unique “scratch off’ number, distribute them to 4,500 outlets, set up a new website with a new transaction model, and handle all the resulting problems with training, customer service, failed transactions, and counterfeit cards. Isn’t that simple and cheap?

Requiring a store visit might make sense if Sony owned 4,500 retail outlets. But people entering a Target store are just as likely to buy toilet paper as another Sony product.

And the resulting customer proposition seems equally absurd. Even if a fan wanted one of the albums, and wanted the whole album instead of the most popular track, she would have to drive or be driven to the nearest outlet, find the display, get a card, pay $12.95 for it, take it home, find the website, find the album, scratch off the “secret number”, enter it correctly, and then download the album tracks.

Why not just buy the album for a few dollars more and rip it? Why not go to any of a dozen Bit Torrent sites and download the track you really want for free?

Sony’s explanation of this torturous customer obstacle course is almost funny.

They expect sales to climb during the next six weeks because millions of lovers will buy their sweethearts the plastic “MusicPass” cards. Huh?

But wait, there’s more.

Sony says the cards themselves have a value beyond their $12.95 price tag.

“[The cards] have great graphics and a quality look and [we] feel that will make them highly collectible”, said a vendor working with Sony to provide the cards.

Collectible? Are they worth more with the “secret number” intact?

Wake up Sony. Your customers want choice, convenience and a fair price. That’s all. If you don’t offer that, they will obtain your product anyway, and you will be cut out of the loop.

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