Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Cheap electronics and a loss of innocence

Today I decided to buy a new USB flash drive, seeing as I appear to have lost my old Kingston DataTraveler II down the back of a sofa somewhere. I figured I'd probably end up paying about a tenner, although most non-specialist shops sell them for about 20 quid or so. Imagine my surprise, then, when I checked the Boots photo centre and they had 4GB Sony MicroVault drives reduced from £24.99 to £4.99!
So, while making a mental note that these things might eBay well, I headed to the till. While waiting, I perused the pack to make sure it wasn't going to be crippled in any way. Right on the front was a big star that I'd managed to previously miss, advertising the fact that the new Sugababes album is preloaded in MP3 format. I'm not sure the Sugababes would be pleased to know that their inclusion warranted a 80% price reduction!
I found this use of MP3 format very interesting indeed. Sony are no strangers to negative publicity over their DRM policies. In fact, they are known to have a very anti-consumer stance when faced with "intellectual property" issues. The pain involved in getting music onto a Walkman MP3 player is testament to that. So the fact that the tracks were bundled in plain old MP3, with no DRM, no registration required and no proprietary audio formats in sight, was something of a surprise.
I know there have been plans to distribute music on flash drives in the past, and there may be some step toward it. It'll be interesting to see what they do next, and if future distribution may be more encumbered.
So I've seen a glimpse into a possible future of Sony's music distribution plans, and got a cheap flash drive to boot. But at what cost? I can never again look at myself in the mirror and know that I have never bought a Sugababes album. That fact will haunt me for the rest of my days. I think I'm going to go listen to some death metal to cheer myself up.