Frequent flyers and the new world of music

Recently I suggested that the on-line music world had yet to settle on a workable business model. Now Gary Leff reports the following new arrangement, whereby you use frequent flyer miles to buy music:

Sony has partnered with United Airlines to introduce another business model
for downloadable music — paying for songs with alternative currency
(frequent flyer miles) rather than money.

Details are still being worked on, I understand, and the website is still a
few months from launch, but it looks like Sony and United will offer
consumers both
* the ability to buy songs while earning United Mileage Plus miles, making
United’s loyalty currency a reason for consumers to pick the Sony site over
rivals (and tapping a 37 million member marketing database on top of Sony’s
own lists).
* the ability to pay in miles rather than money, which will be perfect for
infrequent flyers with a small unused stash of miles (a free ticket starts
at 25,000 miles – a song may cost 100 or 250 or 500 miles, price has yet to
be set).

Keep in mind, the recorded music market is a mere $12 billion or so a year. For purposes of comparison, Kraft sold for $13 billion. Southwest has had a capitalization comparable as well. Tobacco advertising for one year is about $11.5 billion. Now I don’t expect the whole music market to be driven by frequent flyer miles. But neither is it obvious that the best way to proceed is to first sue people and then get them to fork over $12 billion into your coffers. The music industry is small relative to the economy as a whole, and relative to advertising as a whole. Here’s hoping for some new and creative solutions to the property rights problem.


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