MSN Mobile Music: Worst idea ever?

Take a brand that Microsoft's been on the verge of abandoning for years, slap it on a DRM-encrusted, handset-tethered music store, and charge more than the competition.

Matt Rosoff
Matt Rosoff is an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, where he covers Microsoft's consumer products and corporate news. He's written about the technology industry since 1995, and reviewed the first Rio MP3 player for CNET.com in 1998. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network. Disclosure. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattrosoff.
Matt Rosoff
2 min read

Now here's a recipe for success: Take a brand that your parent company's been on the verge of abandoning for the last four years. Slap it on a new music download store for mobile phones. Encrust all the tracks with DRM, even though the rest of the music download industry is finally moving away from DRM. Make sure that the downloads are tethered to the user's handset, so they can't keep them when they upgrade phones in a year or two. Charge more than the competition. Then, when questioned what the heck you could possibly have been thinking, blame a business partner who's actually running the store for you!

On the same day Microsoft announces its first-ever major layoff, the company relaunches an MSN-branded download site for mobile phones in the United Kingdom. Huh?

That's what Microsoft has done with Thursday's launch of MSN Mobile Music, a new part of the U.K. version of its MSN Mobile portal. The MSN brand is old news--most of Microsoft's popular consumer online services (e-mail, instant messaging) got the Windows Live brand four years ago, and Microsoft abandoned its MSN Music download service in the United States when the Zune launched.

We know that the Zune team is working on some sort of strategy for mobile phones. Digital rights management? Nobody's using it anymore, except for subscription-based services. And we know how DRM worked out for the original MSN Music--Microsoft said it was turning off the DRM servers, rendering songs nontransferable to new computers, then it reneged under public pressure.

But the kicker has to be the price: 1.5 pounds (a little more than two bucks), while Apple's iTunes, Amazon.com, and most other music stores start at .79 of a pound. Did anyone happen to notice that we are in a recession?

Most of the time, poking fun at a poorly thought-out Microsoft initiative is good-natured ribbing. But this comes at a time when the company has just announced its worst earnings miss ever and is looking to cut 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months. That makes this kind of incompetence sad, not funny.