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Sony mulls iPod-ready subscription music

updated 09:15 am EDT, Tue March 25, 2008

Sony BMG Subs Music

Sony BMG is considering a subscription-based music service that would work with all devices, according to remarks by label chief Rolf Schmidt-Holtz to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. While the company is exploring other ideas, the executive notes that the firm is considering an option that would allow unlimited downloads for most any portable music player, including iPods. Such a plan would cost between 6 and 8 Euros ($9 to $12) per month but would also allow users to keep between 40 and 50 of the tracks they download each year, eliminating common complaints about music disappearing once a subscription ends.

Schmidt-Holtz does not explain how such a system would work from a technical perspective. No copy protection scheme yet exists that would allow restricted music to be playable on both the iPod and most other devices. Digital rights managements formats such as Marlin are being developed that work with non-Windows platforms but require similar support from individual programs and portable devices.

Sony BMG would be willing to go it alone with such a service but is open to a multi-label strategy, the executive says. Notably, the company is also reportedly discussing the possibility of flat-rate services with Apple, although Schmidt-Holtz doesn't say whether any progress has been made. Apple has historically resisted subscription models as a form of "renting" music that punishes customers when they cancel service.

Regardless of cooperating, a service may be ready by this year if everything works smoothly, the Sony BMG head adds.

However, the company is also said to be pressuring Apple and mobile providers for changes in music strategy. The 99-cent prices charged for each song don't adequately reflect the value of some tracks, the CEO claims. Although Sony BMG says it has a mutually beneficial relationship with Apple by selling its collection through iTunes, the label is reportedly in talks with to join EMI and Universal in Nokia's Comes With Music initiative or start one of its own. The service charges a premium for a device but grants the user an unlimited-access subscription for a year, after which any downloaded tracks remain the user's to keep.

Schmidt-Holtz declines to either confirm or deny the possibility of a similar plan for the iPhone, saying only that the company 'talks with many' companies.

by MacNN Staff



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