French telco Orange today launches (in its home market) an unlimited PC and Mobile music subscription offering, called ‘Musique Max’ (a name not entirely dissimilar to Omnifone’s Music Station Max).
Musique Max takes a similar approach to DRM as Nokia’s Comes With Music will, in that it offers permanent “unlimited” (more on this further down) downloads on PC and mobile that do not expire when the subscription expires. The offering is being made available free for two months to subscribers to certain new broadband and mobile packages. However for the rest of the population (including non-Orange customer by the way) the cost is 12 Euros a month. Catalogue is includes content from all the majors and a handful of indies which amounts to 1 million titles (a few hundred thousand more then when Apple launched iTunes France).
Now for the small print. Unlimited isn’t actually unlimited, it is ‘fair use’. Admittedly the fair use limit is high (500 titles a month) which equates to roughly an album a day, which seems reasonable, but if you spend the first month backfilling your existing CD collection then you’ll hit the limit. Also the pricing isn’t competitive: 12 Euros a month is cheaper than Napster to Go point but more expensive than Napster basic. The usage rights on Musique Max probably put it somewhere between the two Napster offerings so it matches up, but that isn’t to be considered an achievement. Though Napster isn’t even available in France it is the benchmark for European premium subscriptions, largely because it’s just about the only one. And therein lies the rub. Europeans are just not interested in premium PC music subscription services: just 0.1% of European Internet Users subscribed at end 07.
But Musique Max does have the key benefit of permanent ownership (no CD burns of course) and portability. Omnifone’s Music Station has proven that mobile subscriptions have a stronger case in Europe than PC. Just this week they announced they were the largest UK subscription offering (implication: bigger than Napster) achieved after a matter of months compared to Napster’s years. If true it says as much about the relative weakness of Napster (c.40-50 thousand UK subs by my back-of-the-envelope calculations) as it does the strength of mobile subscriptions.
So in conclusion, Musique Max is another important addition to the burgeoning selection of European next-generation music services. It will hopefully instill some momentum into a relatively flat French digital market and offers a genuine alternative to iTunes, Fnac and Virgin Mega. But Orange would be well advised to be more aggressive with bundling if they want to drive widespread adoption.