"If you build it…"

June 16, 2009 § Leave a comment

Those who know me or have read some of my stuff are probably aware that I have a great deal to say on the piracy debate, digital distribution and legalised downloading.

Recently, Virgin have struck a deal with Universal which will see a subscription based music download service available through their ISP. For a monthly fee, maybe “comparable to the cost of a couple of albums a month”, users will have unlimited access to Universal’s library of talent and – here’s the sweet, gooey, tasty part – you get to keep what you download, even long after you’ve cancelled your subscription. As a part of this deal, Virgin are also temporarily suspending the ISP accounts of those who persistently engage in copywrite theft. Interestingly, the article indicates that it will only be those who share music that will be target, suggesting a kind of favouritism – will artists under the EMI band have this same protection from Virgin?

While I think this is definitely a step in the right direction, I get the impression that through this deal you will only have access to artists under the Universal label. Hypothetically, if this became the norm between record labels, then you might be forced to sign up to at least two or three subscriptions to get access to most of what was on offer. In other words, it might end up being prohibitively expensive. Still, it’s difficult to guess what other companies might do and in the mean time I think this is some very good news. Finally, instead of punishing the consumer with legal action, we’re finally seeing companies behaving like they get it. Offer the carrot instead of the stick; offer the customer a better value product or a better service and they will follow.

LOVEFiLM have also recently started to roll-out their new Watch Online service, which allows you to stream movies either as a part of your subscription package or for a small one-off payment. The range of films on this service (as part of my subscription, anyway)  are pretty poor, in general – the only exception being Chopper, a fantastic film with a phenomenal central performance from Eric Bana.

On LOVEFiLM’s pay-per-view, the price for the films I’ve looked at seems to be at £2.49 for 48 hours. That’s actually pretty good, but, personally, I’d like it a little less at £1.99. Regardless, it’s still a good deal. It is a shame, though, that they’re not offering HD versions of these things; maybe it’ll be something they will bring out in the future. There were also quite a few moments while I was using the service that the stream broke and I was unable to reconnect for a few minutes. It’s still a beta, so I understand there will be teething problems. However, when they start calling it the final product then I will expect them to have sorted these technical issues out.

It’s about choice and it’s about value. Instead of bullying the customer, companies need to look at what’s being made available elsewhere – legally or otherwise – and say to themselves, “What can we do to compete? How can we take it one step further?”

Because, if you build it, they will come. And they will come in droves, I assure you.

(Also, for those interested, the film I was watching on the Watch Online service was Hurlyburly, and it was pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty crap. I penned a very short off-the-cuff review for the LOVEFiLM user review section but I’ve also decided to list it here, as well, minus the typos. I enjoyed writing this one.)


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