Universal Music Sketches Subscription Concept, Details Emerge

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CD sales are dropping at an alarming rate, and that has majors entertaining a number of fresh sales scenarios.

At Universal Music Group, that includes an experimental stab at DRM-free downloads, a move considered unthinkable just one year ago.  Now, several sources to Digital Music News have offered details on a new possibility, one that modifies the subscription-based music concept  currently offered by companies like Napster and Rhapsody.

The more comprehensive subscription plan, called TotalMusic, would require buy-in from ISPs and mobile access providers.  According to numerous executives familiar with the plan, it would also force opt-in among existing ISP subscribers, a structure that automatically bumps monthly access charges in exchange for the subscription-based music plan.  Just last week, a Universal Music representative confirmed the initiative, but declined to offer any details.

But one source within the label did offer more information, and noted that TotalMusic is just one of several concepts currently being sketched.  Meanwhile, a source within the mobile industry expressed grave doubts about the future of the initiative, and pointed to a plan that has been circulating unsuccessfully for months.

The forced opt-in may be dealing the most serious blow to the discussions.  One source noted that Universal has faced difficulty rallying ISPs around the concept, largely because of the silent bump in monthly access fees and the lack of billing transparency.  Sources also noted that other labels would have to agree to various terms, pricing, and contract points, a complicated and difficult process.