Original URL: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/04/20/tesco_mp3_mailbag/

Will Tesco turn us into heterotards?

Supermarket sweep

By Andrew Orlowski

Posted in Bootnotes, 20th April 2008 08:02 GMT

Andrew's Mailbag Britain's biggest shopkeeper is diving into digital music. And it's a much much bigger deal than we make out, many of you reckon. Although it's five years late, this may be good timing.

But what about the idea that we should pay twice for our TV? Only one reader dared tackle the taboo.

And there's a nice observation about how annoying digital MP3s can be - which is not your usual perspective.

For some, the unlicensed options are just too good value to resist:

Tesco don't stand a chance at getting me to buy MP3s, I refuse to buy them when I have 'the whole internet' (as Apple's UK TV ads say) at my finger tips. Simple, fast SSL encrypted UseNet services are too good to give up.

[name withheld]

"first you need to draw that crowd. Not a few lost souls who haven't figured out how to set up BitTorrent"

Isn't this precisely the right demographic? People who used to buy music at HMV have now figured how to work Azureus - but the biggest revenues don't come from a million hardcore music geeks, but the tens of millions of people who buy a couple of albums a year at the supermarket or the petrol station. And they've got no idea what BitTorrent is, aside from possibly "that thing their teenage kid installed that made their PC get a virus".

Tesco managed to turn online grocery shopping from an expensive, lossmaking joke (remember Webvan?) into a profitable, near-mainstream business activity, by providing a service that wasn't overpriced, worked properly, and didn't have a "for ridiculous Nathans only" image. If they can do the same for digital music [and indeed for digital TV content], then there's a good chance they'll make a few bob out of it.

John Band

You yourself mention the number of customers Tesco’s has and say how Register readers dislike paying for operating systems or things to run on them. Unhappily for your advertisers, and doubtless happily for the poor sod who packs up and sends out your t-shirts, your customer base is a lot smaller. Therefore the fact that you get 70 or 80 comments making the same unfunny gags and counter gags about free vs paid for on your site should not be seen as a fact that every Tesco customer only walks around the real ale section wearing only socks and sandals on their feet.

You could have mentioned the failure of other retailers in this, such as Coke. But Coke was always a single brand which tried to branch out. The strength of Tesco’s brand is not its exclusivity. Rather, it is its inclusivity. So, if you have a huge brand with a huge reputation for selling goods cheaply. I’d bet most people in Tesco’s tonight have not gone to iTunes, ever. If Tescos can use its instore presence to sell them something new (like it did with clothes, mobile phones and sofas) then I’d say its potential was large. Also your statement

“But not so fast - hasn't music has always been a driver for much more lucrative businesses, you're asking?”

... is also something I disagree with in that it’s true now but hasn’t always been. Change it to “Paid for digital music services” and you might have a point. But since music was commoditised, with sheet music and then the gramophone we’ve had almost a century of HMV, EMI, ETC against, what, 5 years of iTunes. If you bought an LP of Rachmaninov in 1950, what was the more lucrative business than the purchase of the LP? The reason they’re all headless chickens now is, I think, because what you say has only just become true – people think digital music is a driver for something now, because while I could copy an LP for my friends, now I can copy a CD for the world. The record companies just can’t figure out what – community (myspace), product (ipod), brand strengthening (buy mineral water, get a cool track free) or band (Radio”Yeah, we’re millionaires but we hate EMI” head)

"Tesco snags one pound spent in eight in British retail, and it's almost all physical: that's a significant amount of footfall

Yeah, we spend more in Tescos than we do online. But how much DO we spend online on groceries? And how big is Tesco’s share of that? I’d bet it’s higher than 1/8th And if you get people signing up for Tescos accounts to buy scotch, it should be easy to sell them Miles Davis and vice versa. You can worry about selling them anything innovative when some oh so trendy dotcom comes along and work out the basics and IPR. Then Tescos can steam in, make it easy for millions, and make millions more easily than the dotcom ever could.


Good comments Andrew - but as none of us knows what lies before us with Tesco it maybe a little too early to presume that Tesco has neither the ambition or acumen to achieve what no one has done so far. But maybe instead something that is unexpected will be what drives the next new innovation that no one ever expected Tesco to do. So lets wait, watch and see!

I welcome a bit more competition in the music download business and I would probably use Tesco's service if the DRM-free tracks were a similar bit-rate to iTunes Plus. I tried eMusic and got 60 downloads for £8.99 over two months. Unfortunately I'd used up most of my download in about a week, then I couldn't find anything else I wanted. Particularly annoying was that the majority of TV and film themes were poor synth covers, except Wimbledon, it's fantastic, if a little short.

One thing that could distinguish them would be if you could download a whole album and they post you the pressed CD for a small extra fee, say the price of a song or something. There are still CD players out there that don't play CD-Rs (like my car's ancient 10-disc changer) and I bought a dud spindle of Tesco CD-Rs last year, so the pressed CD still has value to me.

iTunes has huge gaps in its collection, like the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra and Monkey, and quite often when I find music I like it's not Plus (Utah Saints Something Good '08, I'm looking at you), so I don't buy it.

I can just see my future self now, with an iPod Touch 32GB in the instore Starbucks in my local Tesco comparing prices on the iTunes and Tesco music stores trying to find the cheapest music because I'd just spent an ungodly amount on a hot chocolate and a muffin.

John Ferguson

I grew up a big music-lover, and I'd buy music, and I'd copy it--back in the seventies and eighties. I'd make compilation tapes to avoid buying lots of albums for one or two songs per record. ILike someone recording a movie on VHS for a friend, it never occurred to me that this might be illegal or taking money from the pockets of poor musicians like Elton John, starving artists like the Beatles.

Since the digital age, I've made sure I don't contribute to P2P sharing of copyrighted music. But sometimes I download songs from other P2P sharing services (nowadays only when I can't buy the MP3 DRM-free).

I'm keeping a sharp eye out for websites where I can buy MP3's. Even though I can get all the MP3's I want for free, I'll go to websites like Play.com, 7digital.com and buy them happily. I've tried Amazon and Walmart, but they're only available to the U.S. I don't want to pay for rental access to music. I don't want to have my songs locked to a specific MP3 playing device like the overpriced if beautiful iPod. I don't want to have to authenticate against a website before listening to my songs on my PC. I don't want to have DRM stop me from moving my songs between my own PCs and MP3 players. I promise not to make these MP3's available to the world or give them away to all my friends, but I guess the record companies won't just trust me.

So, Tesco offering MP3 will mean more money for them, more money for the recording companies, and, oh yeah, a little more for the artists.


Not everyone's impressed, though:

I won't even set foot into Tesco for groceries. As the late and lamented Alan Coren remarked:

"The only good thing I can say about Sainsburys is it keeps the rif-raf out of Waitrose."

Well, Tesco keep the ESN out of Sainsburys. And Waitrose panders to the Chelsea-tractor drivers.

Dennis Jackson

Video just doesn't have the appeal of music. You watch a video once and then unless it is a totally awesome film or a musical it just becomes a hog of hard drive space. When you buy it on DVD it may take up room in your house but the truth is that even in an age of terabyte hard drives keeping a collection of high quality videos on your computer is still beyond the limits of a typical computer users hard drive so inevitable you have to record the movie or show onto a DVD or eventually lose it.

Stacks of recorded DVDs is so ugly when compared to a stack of commercial DVDs that come complete with case and pretty cover. Often the popular films are offered on special offers in HMV or a similar shop, so often the effect is you pay more for the opportunity to fill your hard drive with movies you may watch once a year or fill your drawers with stacks of flimsy CD cases containing DVDs that are only identified by an unsightly scrawl in marker pen.

Likewise, music downloads are an annoyance as well. All are set at high prices and are often sold pounds cheaper in the high street stores unless they are unpopular CDs that are only sought after by a few collectors and fanatics. I was given the opportunity to download a number of tracks for free and whilst looking through the site I realised that my £20 or whatever worth of free downloads would buy me about half of an old jazz collection which had I gone to a shop to buy would have been under a fiver in a bargain section and would have been CD quality rather than merely a lossy MP3.

Individual tracks are an annoyance on an iPod. When I am searching through my music I rarely bother listening to the individual tracks as I know that in a few minutes time I will have to drag the iPod out of my pocket and go through the process of searching out another tune. Classical music can't really be bought in individual tracks as a symphony must be heard in its entirety. The same applies to many classic concept albums.

The only way that selling of digital music will be successful is if the retailers acknowledge that MP3s are not worth the same as CD quality music and instead of trying to rake it in for high priced individual tracks they started offering low priced discographies.


Before BitTorrent, I was a paytard.

Post-Bittorrent, but before DRM-free music was not commercially available for download, I did a bit of freetarding.

Now that I can buy DRM-free MP3s, I am a paytard again.

Except when I can't download what I want legally, in which case I'm back to freetarding (because I'm too lazy to go to a physical shop and buy a CD).

I think this makes me a heterotard. Or bi-tarded. It's all so confusing.

Point is, with a bit of stick (legislative threats) a bit of carrot (ease of use, vfm), and better reporting of the issues (artist compensation etc) I'm sure most people will pay for stuff. Being told by an well-respected artist that you're a freeloading bastard gets the message across much better than hearing the same from a record company exec.

Unfortunately the zealots tend to get all the headlines.

John Latham

And now the big question. There's a lot riding on the answer: and even more now that Project Kangaroo is burdened by Ashley Highfield's expense account. Why would we pay to watch repeats?

(BBC America sells stuff through iTunes - but that's to a market that can't get it free to air, and hasn't paid once with their licence fees).

Why the hell would people pay for repeats from the BBC? Didn't we already pay for them the first time round (and the second & third) when they were aired?

I know some production companys will get a royalty each time their work's aired which is nice for them. It's arse for the license payer though, surely?

So as for paying again to presumably have a DRM crippled piece of expireware on a USB stick or whatever just. Seems. Dumb.

Guy Eastwood

I agree, Guy - but we'll have to see. ®