Digital Top Stories

Nokia phones no longer come with music

By | Published on Tuesday 18 January 2011

Nokia Comes With Music

So, Nokia’s terrible Comes With Music service – or Ovi Music Unlimited as it became last summer – is no more. Turns out the public weren’t that interested in an unlimited supply of downloads that they could keep for the rest of eternity, or until they decided to buy a new phone, whichever came first. Who’d have thought it?

The phone firm announced yesterday that its main music offer will shut in 27 of the 33 territories where it operates, including here in the UK. Variations of the unlimited download offer will remain in China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa, while the more conventional Ovi-branded pay-per-track download store will continue to operate elsewhere.

There was a lot of hype around Nokia’s big music venture when it first launched in 2008 complete with a big marketing splash. Although, strangely, Comes With Music was accompanied by one of the mobile industry’s more inept PR campaigns, perhaps the publicity men were just too aware of the new service’s fundamental flaws.

Nokia had ambitions to be game changers when the company first announced its intent to launch an all-you-can-eat download service. With membership bundled in with the price of a Nokia handset, Comes With Music subscribers could download an unlimited number of music tracks for up to a year to play on their phone or PC.

The problem, however, was that the record companies only had a limited interest in the all-you-can-eat download concept, and insisted that Comes With Music tracks came with digital rights management embedded that meant music could only be played on the phone or PC it was first downloaded to. Once a device became redundant the music on it was lost.

It was a major constraint for Nokia’s big music play. It didn’t help that Comes With Music launched just as the a la carte download market went fully DRM-free – the mantra of the day was that if your music didn’t come as MP3 (or, DRM-free AAC) then it wasn’t worth jack. Of course, DRM hasn’t gone away at all – digital rights management technology enables the Spotify and We7 offline mobile apps – but the restrictive technology there is subtle, whereas with Comes With Music the DRM was somehow right in your face.

Nokia was cagey about how many sign ups it was getting for Comes With Music from the word go, and within months of launch most in the music industry had pretty much written off both it and the concept of DRMed all-you-can-eat downloads in general.

And while everyone recognises a DRM-free all-you-can-eat platform – such as that once proposed by Virgin Media – would appeal to consumers, given that tracks downloaded would outlive any one device, most record companies remain nervous about licensing such a service (except in certain markets – Nokia did manage to persuade the majors to licence a DRM-free Comes With Music in China).

Yesterday Nokia admitted DRM killed its great musical adventure, noting, simply, “these markets [the 27 where Comes With Music is shuttered] clearly want a DRM-free music service”.