Summary:

Sony (NYSE: SNE) BMG has confirmed previous reports it will become the last of the major labels to offer DRM-free music. It’s a pretty tenta…

Sony (NYSE: SNE) BMG has confirmed previous reports it will become the last of the major labels to offer DRM-free music. It’s a pretty tentative experiment – from January 15, the label will sell $12.99 plastic gift cards, dubbed “Platinum MusicPass”, in outlets of Best Buy, Target and Fred’s, containing a code that will download a corresponding album from its forthcoming MusicPass site, USAToday.com says. Consumers also get digital album artwork, but the plan includes only 37 albums. It’s noteworthy that, though dropping DRM is of particular note to those who purchase music online, Sony BMG is making this play in real-world retail stores. What is to gain from electing not to convert those who are already buying digital music exclusively? Though it’s a rather convoluted process that requires customers show up at a store and then get home to their computer before they can play their purchase, gift cards worked for iTunes Store. And the label will at least get to see how many still buying CDs it can convert to digital.

Seems like it has decided to see whether it can grow the digital music customer base by targeting those who are steadfastly still CD buyers rather than those already buying some kind of digital, if DRM’ed, music. This would assume the existence of DRM restrictions is one of the reasons people don’t make the jump from CD to digital.

Either way, it’s not yet the all-out “death of DRM” of which many have written this week – for the time being, it’s about laying a few bets on many different models. Sony BMG global digital business and US sales president Thomas Hesse: “The bigger picture is to make our music available in many different formats, through many different channels, in many different ways.” That Hesse added responsibility for physical-format sales to his digital remit a year ago may account for the dual online-offline strategy. BusinessWeek last week reported Sony BMG would sell DRM-free online tunes via Amazon’s (NSDQ: AMZN) MP3 store from February, too.

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