Sony BMG has a (half-baked) plan for a subscription music service

sony bmgThis is getting a bit embarrassing. Every few days a record label stands up and announces a new digital download scheme that will revolutionize the recording industry and save the environment.

OK, maybe not save the environment. We have Al Gore for that. But definitely the record industry. Somebody needs to save the recording industry, and it can’t always be Steve Jobs, so today it’s a dude named Rolf Schmidt-Holtz.

Schmidt-Holtz is the CEO of Sony BMG, the world’s second-largest record label behind Universal Music Group and ahead of Warner and EMI. Schmidt-Holtz told a German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, that Sony BMG is working on a subscription service that would allow customers unlimited access to the label’s entire library for a monthly fee, roughly US$9-$12.

Best of all — besides saving baby seals — the Sony BMG plan will work on all digital music players, including the ubiquitous iPod. And maybe, just maybe, if everybody behaves and stops pirating music, customers “could keep some songs indefinitely — that they would own them even after the subscription expired,” Herr Schmidt-Holtz is quoted as saying.

rolf schmidt-holtzCalling the Nobel Prize guys, we’ve got a winner for 2008.

It’s not that we don’t appreciate the record labels trying. We want a competitive, innovative digital music landscape. But so far that’s iTunes, the second-largest music retailer in the world behind Wal-Mart; AmazonMP3, No. 2 in digital download sale; and a bunch of plucky download/subscription/ad-supported streaming contenders like eMusic, 7Digital, Limewire, Rhapsody, Napster, SpiralFrog, Nokia (“Comes with Music”), and a bunch of others.

The record labels are scrambling and coming up with half-baked schemes, like Universal working with Wal-Mart, Rhapsody, Best Buy, and a bunch of smaller retailers. Or Sony BMG’s deal with Target. At least yesterday it looks like two of the labels — Sony BMG and Warner — might have hit on something worthwhile if MySpace Music ever comes to fruition.

Instead of a concrete plan, or even lucid, we get from Schmidt-Holtz:

  • No timeline
  • No real details
  • A “plan” that he admits would be more attractive if more big names (i.e., Universal, Warner, and EMI) would join the initiative
  • And a service that will work on any device, but — as the smart folks at Ars Technica point out — expiring music requires digital rights management (DRM), and as of yet there is no universal DRM that works on both Apple and non-Apple devices

To be fair, Schmidt-Holz did indicate that the idea is still in its early stages. Sort of embarrassing, isn’t it?

Photo credit: Rolf Schmidt-Holtz, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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