O2 Signs Musician To Exclusive Contract

Half of UK dance duo Groove Armada will supply operator O2 with exclusive tracks for its customers to download, says the Guardian, “in an attempt to gain control over digital downloading”. Musician Andy Cato will supply O2 with 2 tracks available only to its customers per week, which will sell for GBP 1, with the operator and artist splitting the revenues.

It’s hard to see this deal really driving much traffic to O2. How will they market it? “Like Groove Armada? We’ve got half of them!” While its unsurprising to see exclusive deals pop up in the mobile world, it seems that O2’s got the formula reversed. This type of mobile-only content will only drive sales in large numbers if it’s extremely compelling — which this doesn’t really seem to be. It’s hard to see somebody deciding to switch to O2 because they really like some song. If O2 had scored exclusive download rights to current hits, it might be a different story.

Cato’s argument doesn’t really seem to wash, either. According to the paper, “Cato said the deal with O2 was a way for him to stay on top of the boom in digital music distribution. ‘Piracy is rampant and the digital systems are slightly out of control,’ he said. ‘Maybe this is one way of stabilising the situation.'”

So he’ll circumvent piracy by supplying his songs only to a single, relatively unpopular download service? That would seem to be a good way to _encourage_ piracy — after all, he’s keeping tight reins on distribution (assuming, of course, that anybody wants the songs to begin with). It seems more likely that O2’s 50 pence per download is probably a much bigger revenue share than that offered by other, more popular download services — although Bleep.com, which sells plenty of DRM-free music from a wide range of labels, says artists receive half the 99 pence it charges for single downloads. Interesting.

UPDATE: But wait — the BBC reports that Cato’s tracks for O2 won’t have any DRM, and that he describes “himself as a Luddite, he said he had not heard of DRM until he was flown into London from Ibiza to promote the O2 service. But he added that trying to stop illegal copying of tracks with technology or lawsuits was ‘like trying to hold back the tide’.”

While it’s great that he’s selling DRM-free music, it’s hard to see how putting unprotected tracks on a small, mobile-only download service will stop the “rampant” piracy he objects to. Why not make the songs available on the Web as well? After all, the real point of mobile music isn’t necessarily mobile-specific services, but rather making the platform irrelevant.

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