Comes With Music: First Take

After much hype and anticipation Comes With Music is finally with us, along with announcement of the new "flagship" CWM handset 5800 (see Ian Fogg's post for more on the device).

Regular readers will already be familiar with the core featuresets of CWM so rather than a full laundry list I'll focus on highlights and the unexpected:

- Launched in UK on pre-pay basis on 5310 at 129.95 GBP with Carphone Warehouse (exclusive until end December)and N95 8gb on contract and 5800 next quarter. Pricing of 5310 is highly competitive (essentially the same price as an iPod Nano with unlimited music on top).
- EMI on board, so all majors and majority of indies. 100% chart coverage
- All music is permanent ownership
- 192kbs WMA files
- 12 or 18 month free music subscription (latter is new)
- Nothing to announce regarding a year 2 subscription

The last one is a big deal for me. There is no current provision to provide consumers the ability to pay for continuation of the service. This is a shock and a big missed opportunity if it doesn't transpire. All I can assume is that they haven't yet agreed on terms with the labels and that they want to assess year 1 adoption and usage to give them extra leverage in licensing discussions. Whatever the reason though - this should be here and communicated at launch. Apart from anything else it would have been valuable for emphasizing the value of the music they'd be getting for free (or rather without paying a monthly fee as Nokia don't like this to be called "free")

CWM is not going to change the music industry over night, nor is it the silver bullet to solve its woes. But is the single most promising asset that the music industry has at its disposal with which to fight piracy by fighting free with free.

The danger is that CWM teaches young music consumers that music should be free even from legitimate sources. (And it doesn't matter how much Nokia try to tell the industry that it's not free music, that's what consumers will understand). It's one thing for kids to download music for free illegally, it's another to formalize that process. So Nokia and the broader industry will need to develop some sophisticated consumer life cycle management over the coming years. It's crucial that those consumers who are strong premium prospects are identified early and streamed away from the freeloaders who may never pay. It's not in the interest of Nokia nor the labels nor publishers if the premium prospects spend their music consumptions lives on a subsidized offering.

So, a great, innovative and exciting development, probably the single most important thing to happen to the music industry for some time, in concept at least. The next step is ironing out all of the creases and working out how and where CWM fits in the broader music landscape.