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EMI and Snocap: making more DRM-Free music

emi snocapAs part of an apparent strategy to get its musical catalog as much retail exposure as possible, Big 4 record label EMI has been signing licensing deals with, seemingly, any distributor interested.

Today, EMI will add another distributor to its slate.  EMI is expected to announce a deal with music licensing/distribution company Snocap similar to a deal it struck recently with business to business music sales company PassAlong Networks.

In the Snocap deal, Snocap will sell EMI’s music through it’s MyStores online shops which can be added to various Internet sites. (Again, similar to PassAlong in concept, if not, execution.)  The Snocap MyStores sales channels can be implemented on both fan sites through “widget” tools or directly into artist’s promotional websites. Norah Jones fans, for example, might in the near future be able to buy digital downloads from her official site, and not just t-shirts, CD’s or music books.   Through Snocap, artists can have direct digital sell-through of their albums through fan sites or home pages, or even a MySpace account (Snocap has a partnership deal with MySpace).

The songs offered through Snocap will be higher resolution MP3 files with a price of $1.30 per download.  Tiered pricing for various offers is also expected.

The songs, like those offered in other recent deals struck by EMI, will notably lack digital rights management (DRM) encryption.  As a result, in a first for Snocap, the songs will play on iPods (or the iPhone).  The ability to shift away from the much smaller pool of Windows-Media powered MP3 players should be like an open door giving Snocap a much larger market to play with.   (The opportunity for a vendor like Snocap to sell music for the iPod also demonstrates how DRM-Free music may give a host of music distributors an opportunity to compete with the dominant iTunes store).

Explaining the deal, and in a comment that seems like a veiled shot at the power wielded by Apple’s iTunes, Barney Wragg, head of EMI’s worldwide digital division, told the New York Times: with this kind of offering “you don’t have to have one big store which everyone has to come to; you can take this store and put it into pages all over the place.” 
Given research indicating a large portion of music buyer’s purchase on impulse that could mean a lucrative opportunity for EMI.

Speaking of DRM,  if offerings like these from Snocap and PassAlong catch on with the iPod customer base, the broader distribution from sell-through on scores of MySpace pages and small websites could mean less power is concentrated in a few uber-powerful sellers and instead re-vested back in the hands of the music labels.  (The labels resultant lack of dependence on any single channel would yield desirable leverage in setting pricing, deal terms and distribution policies).   In fact, that redistribution of power might well be the ultimate payoff for the record labels from going DRM-Free (if, that is, other labels follow EMI’s lead and open their catalogs as well. So far EMI is the only one of the "big 4" to blaze the DRM-Free trail.)  

Snocap was started in 2002  by Shawn Fanning (famed for creating the original Napster service), Jordan Mendelson and Ron Conway.  They received funding from Morgenthaler Ventures, Walden VC and Court Square Ventures.  Snocap has struck partnerships with both MySpace and upcoming social media site Imeem to help operate the two companies digital music distribution services.  With Imeem, in a deal announced just last week, the two companies are experimenting with an ad-supported model that will share revenue with artists.

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