March 7th, 2008
04:22 PM ET

Review: MusicPass fails to excite

In mid-January, Sony BMG released Platinum MusicPass, credit card-like digital albums that allow music buyers to purchase music in non-disc form, log on to a Web site and download MP3 files to their digital players. The label, which is pitching the cards as a gift or collectible, is selling the MusicPass albums at several retailers, including Best Buy and Target, as well as non-traditional spots such as the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain.

MusicPass is available at several retailers.

CNN Producer Matt West, always interested in the latest technological offshoots (and the producer of the network's Pop Digital segments), sampled the new product. Here's his review:

Because nobody at Sony has yet received the memo that music retail was killed by the music download, apparently the company now wants to me to go to a retail store to pick up something that I could just as easily do without ever leaving my home.

This bothers me on so many levels. First, I should mention that I live in Los Angeles, where driving is considered a blood sport. Now, thanks to MusicPass, I can not only take my life in my own hands in order to get music on my computer - I’m also contributing unnecessary carbon emissions and smog to the atmosphere.

Next, would somebody please tell me what I am supposed to do with this shiny plastic card after I log on to Sony’s MusicPass Web site and download my tracks? Pass it on to a friend and let them download some music? Sorry, only one download to a customer. At least when I bought CDs, I could pass them along to my friends to listen to or copy. (No doubt, the one person/one use situation is part of Sony’s plan.) I wonder if this card is recyclable.

It’s also a clunky system. When you visit the MusicPass site, you are prompted to enter some numbers found on the back of the card. You are then asked if you want to install Sony’s download-manager software. Now, I’m sure this is infinitely more convenient than the alternative, which involves clicking and saving each individual file to your hard-drive and then copying that into your iTunes music library before finally putting those files on your iPod. (Which by the way, before MusicPass, I could do in two clicks.) But given Sony's DRM issues in the past, I’m not looking forward to installing anything from Sony Music in my system. (Editor's note: In 2005, Sony put out CDs that downloaded software on users' computers and included a rootkit. Sony BMG says MusicPass does not contain DRM.)

Then there’s the issue of theft. As someone who used to work in music retail, I can’t even tell you how easy this card would be to steal. If all that’s required to download your music is a pair of numbers from the card – as opposed to a scan or swipe that “activates” the card - then it’s almost as if Sony is asking for kids to pop on down to the local Best Buy and steal their music.

And one final note: cost.

At $12.99 a pop for most releases, this is no bargain. Even with the bonus tracks contained on several albums, I can’t imagine why anyone would be willing to spend that kind of money. iTunes is cheaper – most albums range from $9.99-11.99. And what if I just want the single? Many online outlets allow you to download individual songs for 99 cents.

MusicPass’ press release states that it’s “a great way to bring digital music to the physical retail space.” The catch is the wonder of digital music eliminates the need for the physical retail space. And besides iTunes, there are plenty of places to find music downloads, such as Amazon and eMusic (not to mention, uh, those file-sharing sites).

Thanks for trying, Sony. I’ll just stack the rest of these cards over here next to this pile of MiniDiscs and Betamax tapes.

- CNN Entertainment Producer Matt West

Filed under: Uncategorized

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soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Brian

    This site blows I got a card with My Gamestop Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep PSP Bundle It's nice I get 50 free songs,
    but the damn site wants to log me out every five minutes plus there is only a limited selection of artists No Beatles No Rolling Stones, No The Police, No The Who and No Lady Gaga to name a few. I got this card in September and I haven't used even half of it Congratulations Sony you fail to compete with Itunes or any other music retailer

    March 22, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Pat

    You idiots have lost the plot on this one. YOU are not the target market for these cards. Sony knows full well that YOU can go online and buy Sony's music in any number of ways.

    The target market for these cards is Grandma who can barely work her VCR (remember those?).

    She wants to buy her grandson the latest album (remember those?) of whatever garbage those kids are listening to now, but little Johnny doesn't even listen to these CD thingamabobs anymore. Ah, but if she buys him this card, he gets the music, and she doesn't have to fuss with any of those electrical gizmos that confuse her.

    In that sense, it's a great idea. What Sony needs to concentrate on is the marketing venues. Best Buy is a dog for this, but Winn-Dixie is brilliant. Placement in venues that traditionally haven't carried music (either due to space constraints or being outside their normal inventory scope) whose customer base skews older and less technical is the key.

    So poohpooh it all you want, but you know damn well that if Grannie gave you one of these of an artist you like, you'd get all warm and fuzzy inside. You even might think of showing her how to set the VCR to tape her beloved Andy Griffith reruns.

    March 28, 2008 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Gis

    The only "advantage" that Sony/BMG has added to the cards is that they thrown in an extra track that wasn't on the album or a video. Who cares.

    I don't trust Sony after the DRM mess either.

    And what is the point of buying a card in a store only to go online and download it?

    I'm bucking the trend by still buying CDs.

    At least it's harder to loose them compared to a hard disk crash or accidentally deleting the MP3s.

    March 24, 2008 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Matt


    MP3s are no more perishable then vinyl and cds. In fact they are probably easier to care for and maintain. So i don't see how your point is valid unless you are only talking about the temporary subsciption based access to music.

    March 21, 2008 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Shannon

    Why the people who came up with this credit card are "douche bags".

    Why would I buy a Bob Dylan album in digital format, for a friend, when I can purchase a iTunes card that willow allow this friend to choose the album they want?

    Seriously, people who run corporations (CEOs) are morons.

    March 20, 2008 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Harry


    You should thank Shawn Fanning with providing a means to get the music you REALLY want. You do not to be stuck to one continent, one thought, one model...ask people who care about the music and simply share.

    You are about the Blu-Ray though.

    March 17, 2008 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Chris

    You guys are missing the point.

    The industry is dead. It started with the first million-selling CD. That started a manifestation of greed that no industry could sustain. Then, when the opportunity was theirs for the taking – with Napster, all of us downloading Americans and our money – at the table, the labels gave US the finger. We've been giving it back, ever since. Go Google "slumping CD sales," and see what you get.

    The music "business" is dead and this comes from an insider, who's been in the business for twenty years. This is just an attempt to get you back out into a store – something to go, hey, I'll buy this while I'm waiting in line. It's stupid, and it won't last.

    Don't give up. Don't trust The Man, and for God's sakes, pull up your pants.

    March 14, 2008 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Russ


    Focus. You should be thanking Shawn Fanning, not Sony.

    And Sony only 'won' the latest format war because they own Sony Pictures, not because the Blu-Ray format is 'better'.

    March 14, 2008 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Scott

    No need to sweat the stealing aspect of the cards. Once cards are scanned at the register, their unique PIN codes, etc. are activated. Without the register scan, they're worthless (unless you consider them collectible, and judging from the piece I would say that's a "no").

    March 11, 2008 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tim

    Of course Sony has come out with some formats that have not caught on and this is no doubt one of them. But I for one appreciate them consistently pushing the envelope to develop the next big thing. Let's not forget it is Sony who we have to thank for Blu-Ray which was just won the Next-Gen Format wars against HD-DVD.

    March 11, 2008 at 3:47 am | Report abuse |
  11. Alex

    Sorry, guys, I want to still be able to listen to my favorite tunes 3 years, 5 years, 25 years down the line. I have 20 year old CDs that play fine, and records going back 60 years and more than I can play, too. I don't subscribe to the "temporary ownership" culture that the music companies and downloaders are trying to create. In 20 years when the youth of today are crying for the songs they had "back then" but the files no longer play or were long-ago deleted, I'll be ready to say "I told you so".

    March 10, 2008 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Kraig Rasool

    Ya know how bout those vinyl album sitting lonely in your closet (if you are from the time period)....Im just not into all the downloading, and sharing tunes genre..... Maybe Im old-school formatted, however I just bought a turntable that can hook up to my cd burner (which by the way i was told by a best employee is no longer available)...and i can listen one of the many six thousand records and still make a recording on to a cd blank.... so I have the best of both. For those who want a choice like myself....Vinyl or Cd.??? (Plus some older records have scratches from when I didnt replace them in the case, which in turns makes them sound even better) I swear to blog!!!

    March 7, 2008 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |

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