Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Sony BMG trades cards for downloaded tunes

By David Lieberman, USA TODAY

NEW YORK — Sony BMG Music Entertainment on Jan. 15 becomes the last major record company to sell downloads without copy restrictions — but only to buyers who first visit a retail store.

The No. 2 record company after Universal Music will sell plastic cards, called Platinum MusicPass, for individual albums for a suggested price of $12.99. Buyers enter a code from the card at new Sony BMG (SNE) site to download that card's album.

"The bigger picture is to make our music available in many different formats, through many different channels, in many different ways," says Thomas Hesse, president of Sony BMG's global digital business and U.S. sales.

Best Buy (BBY), Target (TGT) and Fred's (FRED) stores will be first to sell them. By Jan. 31, they'll be in Winn-Dixie, Coconuts, FYE, Spec's and Wherehouse. Like gift cards, MusicPass cards are activated at the store.

Sony BMG initially will offer cards for 37 albums by performers including Alicia Keys, Avril Lavigne, Bruce Springsteen, Chris Brown, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Jennifer Lopez and Santana.
FIND MORE STORIES IN: Sony | Music | CDS | BMG | Thomas Hesse | Musicpass

Buyers also can download a digital booklet like those with CDs and material such as bonus tracks and videos.

For a suggested $19.99, Sony BMG also will offer cards for Kenny Chesney's album Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates and Celine Dion's Taking Chances that let users download a second album by the same artist.

"I'm excited that Taking Chances will be included in the launch of these new cards, and I hope that my fans will see it as a great Valentine's Day present," Dion said in an e-mail.

The cards come as music sales continue to fall. Sales of 584.9 million albums or their digital equivalents last year were off 9.5% from 2006, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The outlook remains cloudy as retailers cut space for CDs, and online piracy continues.

Other record companies have already thrown in the towel and sell music without copy restrictions online, where sales were up 45% last year. Lifting copy limits lets fans listen to their songs on any PC or player. Warner Music (WMG) joined the bandwagon in December with a deal to sell on Amazon's MP3 service.

While conventional download services, such as iTunes, (AAPL) make impulse music buying easier than the cards, Sony BMG feels "strongly that there's a group that will enjoy carrying the imagery of an artist they love around with them, or sharing it with their friends," Hesse says. Cards allow one download, though they have a provision for a backup.

He says that Sony BMG would like other music companies to offer album cards. It also expects to sell MusicPass cards in additional stores and possibly at concert venues.

Read our post on How to get your own "Download Cards"

No comments: