Monday, March 08, 2004

SOONER OR LATER, THE MAN WITH THE BEARD COMES TO TEA: Not entirely unexpectedly, Richard Branson is bringing the Virgin brand to digital downloads, leaving just the catfood and female sanitary product sectors as the only parts of the market he's not meddled in.

The download company is to be called Virgin Digital, and, like a lot of Virgin stuff, is little more than a wrapper around someone else's product - in this case, the actual stuff is being provided by Music Net. Not that that makes Virgin temper its great claims: Zack Zalon, the president of VD (they might want to tweak the name before the August launch) says proudly ""We're not afraid not to be first movers in this space. We think that if we time it right, it will be the second movers who win.

Because, of course, the race is not always to the swift, and all that. We're not quite sure what the right time would be to move second and "win" - and as Freeview and Sky+ have shown in the TV market, sometimes the second guys do do nicely; but surely for second mover advantage it would need the services who were first to be rubbish? And since iTunes has been granted another six months of stitching up the market to itself, unless Virgin have something more to offer than the inevitable launch party photo op with Branson, it's hard to see why they think they can turn up late to the party and clean up. Oh, and it's going to be in WMA - so, a service that won't work on the iPod or MP3 player your probably already own.

Zalon's belief, though, is that having 100 million people traipsing through Virgin Megastores every year gives it "valuable market and customer preference information." Which is true to a certain extent - but that information is about people who slip on the driving gloves and head into town when they want to buy a record, which is only of limited use when selling single tracks over the net. And since the services that succeed are going to be the ones which have a sense of offering almost everything in one place, how the hell is knowing that White Flag by Dido is selling well in Cheltenham going to help? "Ah... we'd better order up some more copies of that, then"? And it's not like other online music services don't have access to their own sales data anyway.

We're a little surprised at Reuters sloppy, almost product placed mention of WMA:

WMA files work on a host of digital music players, except Apple's, which does not support WMA.

... which sort of implies that only the iPod won't work with wma files, whereas, of course, there's millions of players out there that find Microsoft's bid to build a monopoly on music as difficult to stomach as we do.

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