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"We see MusicPass as a great way to bring digital music to the physical retail space. We believe it will ultimately expand both the digital and physical markets for music."
SONY BMG JOINS THE PARTY
Lone Big Four Holdout Goes DRM-Free—Albeit on a Limited Initial Basis
It was only a matter of time before Sony BMG stripped for action, and (in the immortal words of onetime Columbia band the Chambers Brothers) that time has come today.

The lone Big Four holdout on adopting the DRM-free MP3 has just announced the launch of Platinum MusicPass, a series of digital album cards that enable consumers to download albums, many with bonus content, in unshackled, high-quality MP3 form.

The first 37 titles in the series include Alicia KeysAs I Am, Bruce Springsteen’s Magic, Daughtry, John Mayer’s Continuum and Carrie Underwood’s Carnival Ride. Of the first batch, Celine Dion's Taking Chances and Kenny Chesney's Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates will also made available as special $19.99 versions allowing buyers to choose an additional album from the artist's catalog.

The cards will be available at Best Buy, Target and Fred's on Jan. 15, with Winn-Dixie and Trans World’s Coconuts, FYE, Wherehouse and Spec's outlets offering the cards by the end of the month

Said SBMG President of Global Digital Business & U.S. Sales Thomas Hesse, believed to be a longtime opponent of removing copy protection: "The introduction of MusicPass is an important part of Sony BMG's ongoing campaign to bring its artists' music to fans in new and innovative ways, and to develop compelling new business models. The MP3 files delivered through MusicPass play on computers, as well as on all MP3 players, including iPods. This makes them a simple, easy to use solution that will appeal to fans who already access their music on the Internet, as well as to consumers who are just getting into the digital realm.

"We see MusicPass as a great way to bring digital music to the physical retail space," Mr. Hesse continued. "We believe it will have strong appeal for a broad range of consumers, and that it will ultimately expand both the digital and physical markets for music."

Added Best Buy VP Music Jennifer Johnston Schaidler: " Physical products like this will be another way for Best Buy to deliver music and entertainment to our customers in a manner that suits their needs whether it is an impulse purchase, gift, or great collectible. Digital music doesn't need to be restricted to online environments. We look forward to learning how physical products can help grow the digital marketplace."

SBMG chose the gift-card gambit after scrutinizing some persuasive data. According to the 2007 American Express Gift Card Survey, Americans plan to spend 25% of their total gift spending on gift cards, up from 13% in 2005. Additionally, 61% of shoppers said they were planning to purchase at least one gift card, and on average intended to purchase a total of six cards.

The company is launching the program in conjunction with with InComm, a marketing and technology provider for gift and music cards and other prepaid products.

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