Sony: A Viable European Alternative to i-Tunes?

It looks set to be a big year for Sony. In the midst of announcements of various new products and services comes the “Connect” service. Connect is essentially Sony’s answer to Apple’s i-Tunes. It is an a la carte music store which will initially launch in the UK, Germany and France with major and indie content. The store will be fully integrated with Sony’s SonicStage media software and portable devices, including various variants of the MiniDisk such as the NetMD range.

So will it be any cop? A lot, of course, will depend upon the breadth and depth of the catalogue that Sony has secured for each store and just how much of the catalogue is available for 99 cents a track. But Sony have put themselves at a distinct advantage by adopting a domestic catalogue approach. Local repertoire is a crucial element of European recorded music sales (59% in France) and Sony look set to capitalise upon this rather than trying to implement a pan-European store un-sensitive to local tastes.

Another important asset that Sony will utilise is their established base of device owners. The i-Tunes store owed much of its success to its ability to tap (seamlessly) into the installed base of i-Pod users. Sony will have a larger initial base at which to market their services and should expect strong initial trends from early adopter enthusiasts. However one potential hurdle is that the Connect store is essentially a PC based experience and not all NetMD owners actually use their devices with a PC. So the challenge for Sony will be to persuade ‘un-wired’ device owners to think of their devices less like portable hi-fi and more like portable digital media. But significantly they won’t have to make the entire transition from the Tape Walkman worldview to the i-Pod world view. With the absence of hard disc devices in their armoury Sony are seeking to occupy a unique hybrid middle ground that might just be what less tech-savvy mainstream music consumers have been waiting for…

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