Thursday, September 23, 2004

CAN ANYONE SEE THE FLAW IN THIS PLAN?: The rash of giveaway CDs coming cover-mounted (or, more accurately, wedged inside) the tabloids is causing some concern over at the Evening Standard - free music is a great promotional device, but with all the "news"papers doing it, it's become like an arms race - every week it's getting more and more extreme, and it's costing a hell of a lot of money. Apparently, every new reader tempted to pick up a copy of the Standard costs the paper five quid. And they have to stick around for quite a while before the paper makes that back. Which they don't always do, as, you know, it's the Evening Standard. If only, ponders the paper, we could make some cash out of these things.

So, the Standard is hoping to dump the totally free CDs and sell music downloads instead. They're hooking up with something called the London Music Network, which is going to offer this unattractive sounding proposition:

The CDs will contain some tracks that can be played on a normal CD player but others will only be accessible on a computer and can be played a maximum of four times.

If readers like what they hear, they can then buy the songs through the London Music Network website. New songs will also be added to the website on a weekly basis and will be accessible through a code published in the weekly Metro Life magazine on a Thursday.

Similarly, these tracks will play a limited number of times before they will become "locked" and users invited to buy the tracks if they want to download them permanently.

So, the idea is to try and treat music like heroin - a small hit for free, and then introducing charging through the nose for it. Why they think this confusing farrago is going to appeal to anyone isn't clear - It's a newspaper free gift you have to pay for! It's a CD you can't play on a CD player! Try the Evening Standard tonight!

Interestingly, the ES has picked up the language of the BPI, who were worrying that all these free CDs couldn't possibly be good for the record industry (although we notice none of their members chose not to make the tracks available; funny that):

"Newspaper covermounts as they exist do little to proclaim the value of good music to their readers. The London Music Network is an innovative way of leading listeners directly to the great new sounds we are writing about every week," said David Smyth, chief rock and pop critic at the paper.

"This is a true demonstration of how digital technology and the growth of broadband is complementing traditional methods by giving another route to market," added Andy Brown, chief executive of BT's Rich Media division.

We're not quite sure the route is as direct as Smyth would suggest - you put a CD in your car machine, it won't play the key tracks, so you put it in the computer, where it will play them, but only a couple of times; or you can dig out a secret code number from a magazine which you can then put into a computer and download some tracks before they lock themselves up and you have to try and find them again on the website... it's certainly a route to market, but it's equivalent to getting into the centre of Manchester by heading for Oldham. The Mail on Sunday, god love them, are going to confuse their readers by using the same technology this weekend.

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