In search of he­roes and mu­si­cal odd­i­ties

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC - Brian Boyd

HERE’S a novel at­tempt to try to break Ap­ple’s stran­gle­hold on the mu­sic down­load mar­ket: charge peo­ple more for ev­ery song they down­load.

On the sur­face it may not be the most ge­nius mar­ket­ing idea ever “blue-skied” around a board­room, but mo­bile phone com­pany Nokia hopes to ap­peal to the more dis­cern­ing type of cus­tomer.

Nokia’s new mu­sic down­load ser­vice was in­tro­duced with a very snazzy pro­mo­tional video, di­rected by Wim Wen­ders and fea­tur­ing David Bowie talk­ing about mu­si­cal in­spi­ra­tion. The video fea­tured a num­ber of key in­de­pen­dent record shops around the world, all of which will play a key part in Nokia’s cam­paign.

Apart from the fact that peo­ple will now be able to eas­ily down­load mu­sic to their Nokia phones, the USP here is that the com­pany are us­ing a “hu­man rec­om­men­da­tion” ser­vice. By sign­ing up what they be­lieve to be the key 40 record shops in the world, Nokia hopes to tap into a mas­sive well of knowl­edge which will as­tutely guide cus­tomers to­wards the best new mu­sic out there – ac­cord­ing to their tastes and pref­er­ences.

“It’s like an on­line store of Nick Hornby’s High Fi­delity 40 times over,” says Nokia. “We’ve re­cruited the most knowl­edge­able peo­ple from the best shops around the world, whose day jobs are to lis­ten to thou­sands of tracks ev­ery week and rec­om­mend the best.”

While Ap­ple will still have a far larger li­brary of mu­sic, Nokia is hop­ing that a cer­tain sec­tor will be nudged to­wards its ser­vice be­cause it will con­tain many rare and dif­fi­cult-to-find tracks. Each in­di­vid­ual song down­loaded from Nokia will cost about 16 cent more than the reg­u­lar iTunes ser­vice.

It’s an up­hill bat­tle for Nokia, since Ap­ple still has more than 80 per cent of the mu­sic down­load mar­ket. In Nokia’s favour is the fact that many peo­ple re­gard iTunes as the su­per­mar­ket of the on­line world: the con­tent may be huge, but there’s lit­tle guid­ance for cus­tomers. Nokia’s “be­spoke” ser­vice will of­fer hand-se­lected mu­sic that is deemed to be the best in its genre, and cus­tomers will re­ceive per­son­alised rec­om­men­da­tions ev­ery month.

The phone com­pany has cer­tainly done its re­search. The par­tic­i­pat­ing record shops in­clude New York’s Fat Beats, Chicago’s Reck­less, Ber­lin’s Hard Wax, Tokyo’s Mona Records and Lon­don’s Pure Groove.

On the launch video, Bowie says he got in­volved with the ser­vice be­cause “un­for­tu­nately, so much mu­sic goes un­heard, es­pe­cially things that don’t bow to the main­stream. Mu­sic Rec­om­menders helps you nav­i­gate the undis­cov­ered mu­sic that is out there. I’ve ac­tu­ally been to some of the stores fea­tured on Mu­sic Rec­om­menders in var­i­ous parts of the world and found them to be a won­der­ful source for new and less tra­di­tional mu­sic.”

Bowie was sold on the “hu­man rec­om­men­da­tion en­gine” as­pect of the ser­vice. This al­lows peo­ple new to, say, reg­gae to re­ceive rec­om­men­da­tions from some­one in Ja­maica who has lived his or her whole life around reg­gae and knows most ev­ery­thing there is to know about it.

There’s an ac­tual war go­ing on be­hind this bat­tle over the mu­sic down­load mar­ket. It’s all to do with the much talked about, and ap­par­ently soon to be launched, Ap­ple iPhone. Can Ap­ple pull off the en­gi­neer­ing feat of pro­duc­ing a com­bined phone and mu­sic player that is as small and sleek as all the other prod­ucts in its range?

What Nokia and Ap­ple both have in their sights is the strange anom­aly in the mar­ket­place whereby peo­ple who al­ready have an MP3 player func­tion on their mo­bile phone choose to ig­nore it in fa­vor of a stand-alone MP3 player.

There has al­ways been a re­sis­tance to the idea of the com­bined phone/MP3 player, and whether this can be over­come by Nokia’s en­try into the mar­ket­place or the launch of the iPhone re­mains to be seen. Let bat­tle com­mence.

bboyd@ir­ish-times.ie

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