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The baby-est of baby steps for DRM-free Sony music

NEW YORK CITY, New York - When the news broke several days ago that Sony-BMG would start offering DRM-free MP3 downloads, I said "don't get too frisky, I'm sure there are some catches." I didn't write it here, but I said it. Believe me.

Now the first bits of information have trickled out on the nature of their download program. Almost every detail of the program shows that they just don't get it. Purchasing MP3s involves going to an actual retail store (and maybe online stores too, who knows) to purchasing a special card. Once you take this card home and scratch off the instant-lottery-style covering to expose your secret code, you can then use the code to purchase MP3s online. The initial download menu will consist of 37 albums, including Britney Spears, Barry Manilow, Celine Dion, and Kenny Chesney.

My first thought was that Sony is having the hallucination that getting people to go to the store will result in them buying lots of stuff at the store, in addition to the magic code card. The article mentioned that, and also revealed an even more fanciful dream on Sony's part:

With Valentine's Day approaching, Sony-BMG is counting on demand for gift cards to boost sales of the downloads, as well as the collectible nature of the cards themselves, which feature images of the artists and information about the albums.

It continues to amaze me that record companies engage in teeth-gnashing and sphincter-clenching regarding selling DRM-free MP3 downloads, because (as a zillion people before me have pointed out) every damn CD they have ever sold contains DRM-free digital music. They behave as if this is not the case - that it is some sort of dangerous innovation to let DRM-free songs into the wild.

It's getting ugly, the entire rationale for having big music companies is disappearing and they're going to thrash about for a bit before going away. Technology has obsoleted countless industries over the years; watching this whole episode is instructive because it's happening in our time and it's happening to a very visible industry that all of us have interacted with.

Found via Slashdot

UPDATE: Just a few days later, looks like Sony is loosening up even more and will be selling music on the Amazon MP3 store. Good for them.