When Microsoft released its Zune player-store-software combination, it effectively drove a stake into the heart of PlaysForSure, the company's logo program that identifies Windows Media-based online stores and the players that work with those stores. Sure, Microsoft still claims that it's equally committed to both initiatives, but PlaysForSure partners have a right to be concerned that their technology partner is competing directly against them.
Samsung was one of Microsoft's most steadfast digital media partners: it released one of the earliest Portable Media Centers (portable audio-video devices based on Windows Mobile software, which beat the video iPod to market by a year) and was one of the charter PlaysForSure partners. But the company also was one of the first to see the writing on the wall: in September, right after the Zune rumors began, Samsung announced plans to contract with MusicNet, a back-end provider of music stores, to provide a subscription-based online store in Europe. (Yes, this is the same MusicNet that was originally founded by a couple of the big record labels and provided expensive and heavily restricted downloads to end users, but its ownership and business model have changed.) The store is integrated with the new Samsung Media Studio software that ships with Samsung portable players. In other words, Samsung is following in Microsoft's footsteps--and of course, both are following Apple--and releasing an integrated set of devices, stores and PC client software.
Apparently, the store launched today in the U.K., France and Germany. This probably won't affect too many people--April 2007 NPD stats listed Samsung as the No. 5 music player manufacturer, behind Apple, SanDisk, Creative Technology and Microsoft. Nonetheless, the creation of new music stores could be good for the record companies, who are seeking any leverage they can get against Apple.
Speaking of, Universal Music apparently confirmed to MacWorld that it has signed an "at-will" contract with iTunes. This means it could offer some of its artists' songs to other music stores as exclusives, or it could pull songs from iTunes if Apple refuses to budge on its univeral pricing policy of $0.99 per song.