Vodafone / Omnifone Music Station: First Take

EDIT: Oh, and I nearly forgot: Nokia of course launched their music store in the UK today. See my original post on it back in August.

Vodafone, in partnership with Omnifone, have today launched a flat rate mobile music subscription service. For 1.99 a week, or bundled into (admittedly pricy) mobile subscription tariffs, users get access to unlimited downloads from a catalogue of 1.2 million tracks.

Regular readers of this weblog will know that Iím not the worldís biggest fan of mobile music, but this offering definitely piques my interest. As Iíve said before, mobile music needs to try to do something different than PC offerings if it is to have any chance of success. Emulating the 99 cent download on mobile just isnít playing to the strengths of the device but most certainly plays to its weaknesses. An all you can eat subscription positions mobile safely away from the bulk of PC music activity (especially in Europe) and makes it thus less prone (though of course not immune) to unfavourable comparisons with PC services.

There are a couple of further points worthy of note with this offering: firstly Omnifone have a smart way of addressing the mobile network connectivity issue by automatically optimizing downloads to the network, so that a 2.5G user would have a smaller size file than a HSDPA user. Of course the flip side of that is that the slower your connection, the poorer the quality of your music.

All that said, the pricing for this service is pretty steep (i.e. 12 Euros a month) and will limit appeal. The lesson that needs to be learnt from the PC experience is that music subscription services priced at 10 Euros / Dollars / (or even worse) Pounds a month simply do not gain mass market traction. Subscriptions are doing a modestly reasonable job in the US but in Europe they have failed to gain traction, so much so Napster scaled back its UK operations. Real and Yahoo have both opted against European roll outs and Virgin and HMV (just today in fact) have ceased their subscription offerings.

So if Vodafone want to target the niche audience for premium subscription (about 0.1% of European Internet users in 2006) then this is the correct price point. But if they want mass market, the price needs to come right down.