EMI To Try Mobile Almost-P2P
By Carlo Longino, Thu Jun 17 15:15:00 GMT 2004

The record label will launch a trial this summer of a mobile music service that will let users forward previews of tracks to their friends.

EMI's aiming to be the first record label to take advantage of the viral distribution possibilities offered by advanced mobile phones and handsets, New Media Age reports. It will enter a trial with an unnamed European carrier for the service, where users can send a track to their friends, who can then preview it and purchase the full track if they're so inclined. The preview will have a DRM wrapper that expires it after a certain number of playbacks.

It's heartening to see a record company embrace this technology, rather than run from it, but details on the trial, which will involve 200-300 customers, are still sketchy. Skepticism that high pricing, poor usability, overly restrictive DRM, lack of enticing content, or some other foible is totally understandable, record labels' resistance -- hostility even -- to adopting new technologies.

Pricing of the service will be very important -- one of the keys to Web services like iTunes, Napster or Rhapsody is that users aren't charged by their ISP on a per-byte basis. When users have to worry about the amount of data they're downloading, it can sap their desire to browse and preview music they haven't heard before, potentially costing the online service sales. If users have to pay to download song previews sent to them by their friends, it's doubtful they'll be very successful.

TeliaSonera and Sony are using one possible method with their new mobile music service, offering it for free and leaving users responsible for the data charges. It's one way to do it, but it's backwards -- why not charge a low monthly fee for the service, especially since it's offering audio streams as opposed to downloads, and make the data free? Obviously TeliaSonera is hoping the service will generate a lot of traffic, but it can also generate a lot of ill will from customers getting data-charge sticker shot after the first month of service.

Kudos to EMI for venturing into what other labels regard as shark-infested waters. But the company must be careful to avoid the greed and pricing mistakes that have the potential to hobble these fledgling services.