Nokia’s (NOK) attempt at taking on Apple (AAPL) in the digital music industry gets going next month: That’s when the mobile phone giant will launch its “Comes With Music” subscription service in the U.K., ahead of 2009 launches in Europe and Asia.
The basic premise: Your new Nokia phone comes with a “free” year’s worth of music — an all-you-can-eat selection of 2.1 million songs, which is about 25% of Apple’s iTunes library. After that, you can pay to keep using the service, or cut it off and keep your original song files.
Will it work? Too early to tell, of course. But Nokia is still missing some crucial pieces of the puzzle that could slow its takeoff:
- Deals with any U.K. carriers to sell — and, more importantly, subsidise the phone. The carriers don’t want to support Nokia’s music service because they each have their own music stores. So for now, the phone will be on sale at U.K. retailer Carphone Warehouse, which has 800 stores.
- A price tag. Because the phones won’t be subsidized by a carrier, Carphone Warehouse will be charging full retail for them. The first phone — the Nokia 5310, pictured above — currently sells for £70-£80 without music, according to the FT. With music, it’ll be more. How much? The Guardian says the first “Comes With Music” phone could cost between £100 and £300. That is a huge range, so it’s hard to put any weight behind it. But at the very least, it seems a “Comes With Music” phone could cost £20 to £30 more than an identical phone without music. Is that too much?
- An impressive phone. We understand that the point is for Nokia to include the service with all of its music phones, from low-end to high-end. But it could have probably picked a better phone to launch with: The 5310 is a mid-level phone — not high-end — and doesn’t even have 3G Internet access. In theory, this addresses the slowing high-end European phone market. But it’s still going to be hard for early adopters or gadget-types to get excited about this phone. At least one more phone is in the works for Christmas; hope it’s a good one, as it’ll be selling directly opposite the subsidized iPhone 3G in Carphone Warehouse stores.
- A deal with EMI. Nokia has deals with three of the four major record labels — Sony BMG, Universal, and Warner Music — but doesn’t yet have one with EMI or British indie labels. Nokia expects to have EMI on board by launch.
Also missing — but not surprising: A U.S. launch schedule. And while we’re waiting for that, we’ll keep wondering whether Apple will someday unveil some sort of subscription music service of its own. So far, the answer is no.
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