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Sony confirms Son of Connect

Antitrustware, or third time lucky?

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Sony BMG has confirmed that it will launch a new music service - just as it's latest tilt at at the market, Sony Connect, closes its doors.

CEO Rolf Schmidt-Holtz confirmed the new initiative on Monday, saying it will give access to the label's catalog for €6-€8 a month. Subscribers may keep some music after terminating the service, and the files will play on non-Sony devices. However, since no other labels have been confirmed at this stage, it looks like the third flop in a row for the Japanese giant. But perhaps that's the point.

Sony is already backing the majors' Great White Hope - TotalMusic, a flat free music service backed by the biggest major, Universal, and Warner Music Group. So why bother at all?

Sony's first venture was a wholesale digital store called PressPlay, which gave consumers access to music from various labels, via a service provider. Although PressPlay was and retail clients included Yahoo! MSN and MP3.com, there were many drawbacks. The catalog was limited, the DRM restrictions were onerous, and buying music was complicated.

Sony offloaded the decomposing remains of PressPlay to Roxio for the reborn Napster, and Sony tried again, bolstered by news of a merger with Bertlesman. This time, its Connect music program was simpler and - following in the slipstream of Apple's iTunes Store - the pricing was lower, and easier to understand. However it only supported Sony's ATRAC players, which at the time of the announcement, still didn't support MP3. Music purchased could be transferred to a portable music player just three times. And it was buggy.

Connect received its death sentence last year, and European users were told to sod off at the the start of the month: the switch gets pulled worldwide next Monday, the 31st.

So what's the point of investing in such a limited service, when the public wants access to all the world's catalogs? And Sony is already involved to give it to them.

There are two rational reasons. The first is that it isn't designed for the likes of us, but for rival equipment manufacturers such as Nokia.

The other is more Machiavellian. The US Department of Justice concluded in 2003 that programs such as PressPlay were designed to "impede the growth of the Internet" for music distribution, and steer users back to the "bread and butter of the music industry": physical CD sales.

The majors' current initiative, TotalMusic, is already said to be under Antitrust scrutiny, although the DoJ has not announced a formal investigation. So perhaps the new service needs to fail, before the majors can convince the regulators that they cannot create an all-major label service without acting in concert? ®

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