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Digital music kiosks take another spin

Will digital music kiosks ever take off? Seattle's MOD Systems thinks so: the company just signed deals with all four major labels to distribute more than 5 million DRM-free songs through retail kiosks.

The idea of a digital music kiosk, where customers can walk up, press a few buttons on a screen, and download music to some sort of portable storage medium (disc, phone, flash card), has been around for a few years now. Starbucks ended a two-year experiment with in-store CD burners back in 2006, and U.K. music retailer HMV began offering free downloads to USB drives from in-store kiosks in 2007.

CDs are so 20th century. MOD Systems

Even if the trend hasn't exactly taken off, companies continue to try them out. Earlier this week, Seattle-based start-up MOD Systems entered the fray, announcing that it had signed deals with all four major labels, allowing it to package more than 5 million DRM-free songs for digital distribution via in-store kiosks.

There's a bit of irony in the announcement, as MOD co-founder Anthony Bay used to lead Microsoft's Windows Media Division, whose business model relied heavily on DRM (digital rights management). Microsoft hoped to convince content owners that it had a robust DRM system so they'd use Windows Media technologies to encode and host their content. But that was almost 10 years ago, and now that the recording industry has come around to the idea of selling DRM-free tracks on iTunes, Amazon, and countless other online stores, there's no reason to restrict retail kiosks from doing the same.

So is there any future for digital music kiosks? It's hard to imagine shopping at a digital-only record store when it's so much easier to buy MP3s over the Web on my home computer--which is where I store them anyway--or over the air from a phone or wireless-connected player. But kiosks might find a place in multipurpose retailers and big-box stores, where they'd take up a lot less space than the CD racks currently in place, or in other places with lots of foot traffic--hotel lobbies, malls, university campuses, and so on. I can even imagine a jukebox that not only lets you play songs, but also lets you download them to a flash drive--great for those late-night impulse buys.

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