Sony to Continue Self-Defeating Music Strategy

Even though I’m behind on posting once again, gotta post on this because I haven’t seen anyone else point here: Sony music download service to launch in June.  I think my headline is more accurate.

Sony’s inability to sort out how to get its music foot in step with its technology foot has been discussed at length.  This is but one example.  Sony isn’t licensing to some Euro stores before it releases its Connect service.  From the looks of this article, they might not even be adding other major labels to Connect’s catalog.  Apparently, Sony hasn’t learned from Pressplay (which Sony invested in) and Musicnet that it’s advantageous to license widely, outsourcing storage and distribution to a better-equipped, dare I say smarter company. 

But Sony likes to think of itself as a smart technology company. So smart, in fact, that it’s releasing music in the ATRAC3 format, wrapped in – you guessed it – Sony’s own DRM.  It used to be called OpenMG X, but they must’ve thought the X was too silly, so it’s now just called Open Magic Gate (OpenMG).   Maybe it’s name of the something you do in a video game, but I have no clue what makes this proprietary DRM “open” or “magic.”

“Gate”, I’ll give to them, because it sure does fence you in.  Apparently, Sony is still interested in proving that this whole iPod thing is just a fad.  ATRAC3 is the format for Sony’s MiniDisc players, and songs can only be transferred to “secure” Sony products.  I’ve got some friends who love their MiniDisc players.  Those friends also swear they can hear the difference betwen ATRAC and 128 kbps MP3s, and I’d say they’re just as loony as Sony.  MiniDisc has never and will never be the wave of the music future.  With all the great, tiny flash memory and hard drive portable MP3 players, I don’t see how building the business around these removable media players is worth it. (For the short run, the players should still do alright – I’m still buying a cheap MP3/CD player instead of an iPod. But the other players are going to come down in price soon enough. … Did I mention that Sony’s CD players only play MP3 and ATRAC as well? No AAC, OGG, WMA, etc.)

And be ready for Sony to move to the domestic market soon enough, bringing more incompatability fun with it.  I thought Sony was working with Phillips on DRM that anyone could license – a Phillips executive even said: “The electronics industry recognizes that Microsoft is a formidable player, but consumer electronics makers do not want to become dependent on Microsoft. They need an interoperable and independent system, DRM is an accelerator which will boost digital sales of media, because it will convince media companies their content is protected. It should not be a competitive weapon.” Sony doesn’t seem to actually buy that.  They’re trying to set the standard, and they want control over the devices.

Well good for Sony, but I ain’t going to buy its players, its music services, even its cameras (with proprietary Sony memory).  To me, it’s a total waste. (See also some previous posts on this matter).

Update: Adam Thomas makes a good comment with which I have little disagreement.  See here for my comments.

2 Responses to “Sony to Continue Self-Defeating Music Strategy”

  1. AdamThomas
    March 18th, 2004 | 5:34 pm

    Although I agree that rolling out yet another proprietary format and relying on market-wide acceptance isn’t a brilliant business model, I think letting a thousand formats bloom can be a good thing – as long as firmware upgrades are made available. Maybe there’s an audible difference, maybe not, but I think a competitive environment should be fostered.

    iRiver put out a limited OGG firmware update. Would it be so difficult for others to do the same?

    Two caveats:
    1. I have no idea how difficult it is create said update or the extra costs associated with creating a device capable of receiving updates.

    2. I am unsure of the legality/licensing fees associated with putting out say an AAC update.

    I’d love to hear from anyone better informed on these issues.

  2. Anonymous
    March 18th, 2004 | 8:51 pm

    The key difference between what Adam’s talking about and my discussion is that he’s discussing codecs. Letting a thousand codecs bloom can be a very good thing – it can help us get better standards, promoting innovation and healthy competition. It’s (arguably) best if, to implement the standard, all you have to do is read a public specification, with second best being openly licensed standards like AAC, I suppose. A worse case would be if each codec was proprietary and strictly licensed, so that AAC could only be played on certain players, MP3 on others, and there would be no way for those players manufacturers to license the other codec. You can still get benefits from that competition, because ultimately it can still help the “better” standard win out (although that is not guaranteed), but it has more costs in terms of standards fragmentation.

    In the case of DRM, however, the consumer gets no better quality from using one DRM over another. It doesn’t affect the sound quality. The only affect on consumers is indirect – DRM do differentiate on the basis of how flexible their rights languages are. But, in practice, this matters little, since the all the msuic services allow and restrict basically the same uses (with differentiation only between PPD v. subscription) – for the most part, FairPlay, Helix, and WMA locked files don’t differ all that much.

    More to Adam’s point, in the case of the current DRM market, there are no simple “firmware” upgrades. The various DRM are not free public specs; ones like Apple’s, Real’s, and Sony’s are proprietary and only licensed for the company’s own software and hardware players. WMA is more widely licensed, but it is not an open industry standard like AAC.