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Sony dis-Connects

Sony_connect_logo Well, that's one way to address the DRM incompability problem. PaidContent.org reports that Sony is all but killing its online music and video store, dubbed Sony Connect. Evidently, the new Sony gives up more quickly on misbegotten initiatives than the old Sony, although frankly I'm surprised Connect lasted even this long.

Taking an all-too-familiar approach, Sony handicapped Connect with proprietary and market-trailing technologies. Launched as a music store in May 2004, Connect relied on Sony's music format (ATRAC) and DRM (OpenMG), as well as buggy software (SonicStage). It worked only with Sony's overpriced digital music players, whose sole advantage was stellar battery life. Sounds idiotic, right? But a similar strategy worked sensationally for Apple. So why did Sony, perhaps the pre-eminent consumer-products company on the planet, fail so miserably? I mean really, even Microsoft seems to be doing better with Zune than Sony did with Connect.

RealNetworks' CEO Rob Glaser told me a couple of years ago that the future for consumer products was going to be determined by the quality of their software -- not a surprising statement from a software executive, but insightful nevertheless. Apple's iTunes was a stellar piece of coding from the day it was released, and Connect/SonicStage never was. Apple also recognized long before Sony did that it's pointless to try to change consumer behavior with a product. In the digital music arena, that means accommodating MP3s, not trying to force-march people into using ATRAC -- regardless of how much longer the batteries might last.

One interesting question now is how long it will take for the files people bought through Sony Connect to become useless bits. Will Connect's customers still be able to authorize new devices so the files can move onto new PCs? What happens if their SonicStage software gets corrupted? Will anyone provide tech support? Sony says it plans to keep Connect's previous customers happy for the foreseeable future, but the best thing for them to do now (if they haven't already) is burn all those songs onto standard audio CDs. Of course, that assumes that anyone actually bought songs from Connect....

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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