Sprint's move to lower its per-track price for full tracks downloaded over-the-air is a bold and much-needed move to kick start the mobile music market.
Sure it was selling a decent amount of songs before, but let's face it —acquiring music via mobile phones isn't exactly revolutionizing the business just yet.
Dropping the price down to what consumers have grown to expect is a first step to establishing some parity in the minds of consumers that mobile music and digital music are the same, not separate products.
But more interesting is the way that this price drop was able to occur. Rather than just eating the cost of music and subsidizing it like they do mobile phones, Sprint worked with the record labels to strike better licensing deals that allowed them to offer the lower price and still turn a profit.
If the music and mobile industries want to work together to create this new market, they have to be a bit more creative in their approach. They need to understand that both sides have challenges that must be addressed and that together, they can give customers what they want and still have a business.
I'm sure there's much more to the deal than just a lower fee to labels. Sprint has either guaranteed a minimum number of purchases over a certain period of time, or perhaps paid an upfront lump sum, or maybe even gave up a portion of their monthly data charges (I seriously doubt the last to be the case, but you never know).
All eyes are going to be on Verizon Wireless now to see if they drop their prices as well. Verizon says it's selling just fine, thanks, and sees no reason to cut the cost. What's more likely is that Verizon isn't willing to concede whatever Sprint agreed to in return for the lower rate.
Whatever the case, the point is there is dialogue going on and creative solutions being found. And that can only be a good thing.
The RIAA just keeps beating its head against the legal wall with its shows-no-signs-of-slowing lawsuit campaign against music swappers. The campaign might be winning the hearts and minds of RIAA member companies, but the bad publicity around the strategy just keeps intensifying.
Shortly after ramping up the aggressiveness against college students, the University of Maine and the University of Wisconsin refused to help identify students or encourage students to accept out-of-court settlements.
Then, the lawyer for one angry plaintiff fires off a tough letter in response to a lawsuit and the RIAA just drops the case — causing immediate rejoicing and empowerment among the pro-P2P crowd.
There's no shred of evidence to suggest any of this is working to slow piracy, and frankly seems like a big distraction to obfuscate the fact that there is still no coherent or unified strategy to collectively build a new digital market for music.
I'd like to see the RIAA send letters of a different sort — invitations. Hold open door meetings with the technology world — including the P2P services — and start addressing the solutions needed for tomorrow rather than punishing the deeds of the past. Work on building bridges not burning them.
The lawsuit campaign was always one of awareness, under the illusion of enforcement. That message has been sent and heard. But it's time to put that strategy aside and start taking the next steps.