Microsoft UK Launches DRM-Riddled Music Store, Doomed to Fail

With every major online digital music vendor slowly but surely abolishing digital rights management, you might wonder how much sense it makes to launch a music service that locks tracks to the devices they’re downloaded to. Still, this is exactly what Microsoft has done with its recent launch of its UK Mobile Music store. To make matters worse, there’s a whole boatload of other weird decisions regarding this new service that makes you wonder if Microsoft UK has been in contact with anyone outside of its own main office building for, say, the past 5 years.

Not only are the songs downloaded through the MSN Mobile Music store tethered to the device they’re being downloaded to via DRM, the songs are also substantially more expensive than those of competing stores. In addition, the MSN brand is on its way out – Live is the new Frankenfruity. You’re not the only one wondering what those British Microsoft guys were thinking when they thought this was a good idea; UK’s PC Pro decided to interview Microsoft UK’s Hugh Griffiths, Head of Mobile. The answers given show that Microsoft UK doesn’t really seem to care either way how well this new service will fare in the real world.

The pressing question is of course why you would want to launch a music service riddled with DRM, when all your competitors are moving away from it. “We’re doing this in conjunction with a third-party provider,” Griffiths explains, “We’ll be looking to enhance the service if we get some interest from consumers. They certainly tell us that they like listening to music while they are out and about, on their mobile phones.” In other words, Microsoft would like to remove DRM, but its partner is blocking this. Somehow I fail to see the business sense in blaming your partner in a newly-launched endeavour.

Tethering songs to a single mobile device seems like a rather bad idea as well, you’d think. Microsoft UK disagrees. “There may well be people who just want to listen to the track on their mobile alone.” Certainly, but you could also just go to one of the competing stores, pay a lower price per song, and play it anywhere – including your mobile phone. If you’re starting to wonder if Microsoft UK is really into making this work, you’re not alone.

The next question firmly confirms the idea that Microsoft UK really doesn’t care if this service works or not. PC Pro asks why consumers should choose Microsoft’s new service, what does it offer that others do not?

There’s a whole bunch of people who are very loyal to MSN on the web and there’s now almost a million users of MSN Mobile every month, within the space of 12 months of it being launched.

So there’s a whole bunch of people who are using MSN on their mobile phone for a whole variety of reasons. And we’re saying to them, if you want to download music, it’s available here. If you don’t, that’s fine.

It’s a consumer’s choice and they will decide if they’re happy with the MSN Music service or if they want to go somewhere else.

While this is just a relatively small service offered only in the UK, it’s the perfect example of why Microsoft can’t get it right when it comes to competing with Apple’s iTunes Music Store. The key to success is offering a consistent user experience, with one single store. It doesn’t make sense to have each national Microsoft branch start its own music service, with independent pricing and restrictive DRM schemes. Microsoft is laying off 5000 people, and looking for other means to cut costs?

I say, quit this pointless music store before it’s even open, and because of this saving, maybe a few more folk can keep their jobs. I’d say, get your priorities straight.


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