The French government has revealed a plan to combat piracy that could either be the most brilliant gesture ever or the most monumental waste of government resources of all time (okay, maybe not all time, but close).
The proposal: French residents can buy a 50-euro gift card with which they can obtain music from a subscription service; in turn, they'll be given a 50 percent discount on their purchases. It's not all half-off deals forever, though: The service will run for two years, with the government restricting each citizen to one of these discount cards per year.
Now, then, to be perfectly clear here, we do not think there is any chance this could actually happen in the United States. We've bailed out a lot of different industries, but we can't really imagine our government giving the recording industry any help. However, the basic premise of the system is interesting.
To understand the state of the French music industry, it might be worthwhile to look at one of its most recent service offerings. On top of a few different download-subscription services, France (and much of Europe) has an acclaimed streaming service in Spotify, which has been trying -- and failing -- to make its way across the Atlantic for the past year.
The service offers online streaming of songs, or, for a premium, online and offline song storage -- so basically, it's an iTunes library you can access anywhere, with a Pandora-like service built in for good measure. It seems like a cool service, but it's already missed two U.S. launch dates. The reason? Apple. Well, sort of.
Spotify faces some fundamental obstacles: Primarily, record labels are concerned that a streaming service won't make them any money. And that, coupled with the inherent stigma of the failed streaming services -- including Imeem and SpiralFrog, among others -- this country has already experienced, has the cards stacked against such a cloud-based subscription service.
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And if that isn't enough, there have been rumors of supposed Apple and Google offerings in the future, meaning record labels might be hesitant to sign up with a new name if they know the heavy-hitters have services on deck.
So, while cloud-based subscription services might still be a bit out, what about applying this type of deal to a standard subscription service? Well, even without government subsidies, there's kind of already such things in place. The popular subscription service eMusic is almost always offering a collection of free songs for signing up; currently you'll get sixty tracks for trying out the service and up to twenty bonus songs every month for three months, if you sign up high-end package. Rhapsody and Napster tend to have similar deals, as well. They're not perfect, but at least they're a better deal than those BMG Record of the Month Clubs used to be.
So could a plan similar to the one implemented by the French government work here? Simply: No. Time will tell what types of services Google and Apple end up offering, or if Spotify ever makes it over to U.S. soil, but as it stands, a gift card and a discount aren't enough to get people to make the switch from piracy to legitimate purchases.
Deals like the ones offered by eMusic certainly bring new customers to the table and definitely help the service in the long run, but the chance of converting a heathen pirate is pretty slim. It's clear people need more than the prospect of a clear conscious to get them back to purchasing music.