Sanity’s new music store a DRM nightmare

Sanity’s new subscription music service is 18 months late restricted to just 300 downloads a month and inaccessible to 80% of the portable music player market due to its tie-up with Windows Media DRM. Is this really the future of digital music?

Physical and digital music retailer Sanity today announced its new subscription music service LOADIT which allows customers to download up to 300 tracks each month in return for a $29 a month fee. While Sanity was quick to boast that the service was “Australia’s first online music subscription service” and offered a back catalogue of a million tracks it didn’t point out that its plans for such an offering were first announced way back in January 2007 at the launch of Vista.

Back then the service hadn’t acquired a name but was launched as part of the consumer release of Windows Vista. At the time it was scheduled for an April 2007 release – a date that came and went without any service whatsoever. Even at that time Sanity planned to impose a limit of 300 tracks per month on subscribers for what was described as “less than the price of a couple of CDs” (so $29 a month qualifies we suppose).

Apart from the “not quite all you can eat” detail LOADIT also suffers from a much more fundamental restriction: a reliance on Microsoft’s Windows Media Audio format. Tracks downloaded through the service can only be played back on Windows Media Player 11 or via a WMA-compatible portable media player a category which doesn’t include the market-leading iPod. The reliance on WMP also means Mac and Linux users can’t access the service.

Perhaps recognising that actual Windows Media Player-compatible players are as scarce as on-time product releases Sanity is offering a free (though unspecified) portable music player to anyone who signs up for 12 months.

Sanity’s announcement comes just a day after Telstra the other big backer of the Windows Media format in Australia said it would begin selling DRM-free MP3 music files via its BigPond Music store.