@ EconMusic: Nokia Distances Itself From ‘Free Music’ Claims

Cautious about being seen to devalue music, Nokia (NYSE: NOK) used our London EconMusic conference today to stress that tunes via its upcoming Comes With Music scheme will be anything but “free”.

“Music is not free with Nokia,” Comes With Music’s go-to-market head Tom Erskine stressed, as though in capital letters. “It is absolutely not ‘free’ – it has a value. It will be ‘included’ – it’s an important distinction – it’s pay once and download unlimited music… you’ll be able to purchase a Comes With Music device and it will cost a bit more than the regular device.

“If we advertised it (as having free music), first it would be a lie and second it would devalue music.” Instead, Comes With Music marketing will include words like “pay once”. “If users respond to that as ‘free’, I’d be surprised. We’re trying to make it mass-market, we’re trying to strike a balance – but not free, not ‘freemium’, not ‘premium’.”

Nokia will launch Comes With Music in the UK first, at a party with rock performances and a host of its top execs in London next Thursday night. The launch will come with a new Xpress handset, to be sold at Carphone Warehouse from October 17.

Erskine wouldn’t divulge Nokia’s targets for the program – like, how much of iTunes Stores’ market share it can win – but anything’s an improvement from the poor present state of the mobile music sector (see previous post): “We haven’t even started yet. The amount of revenue that’s generated in mobile music today is not particularly significant.” And he was keen to play nice with the carriers, who each have their own music efforts, raising the prospect of fractious relationships: “We want to grow the pie with them – we can’t do it without the operators; they have the customers, they have the networks.”

As for Nokia’s long-term music strategy – expect a big seasonal emphasis on Comes With Music: “We’re going to put a very major marketing investment behind it indeed this Christmas. We’re going to bring some investment and focus. Nokia is a big and powerful company – music is right at the top of our agenda at the moment. We’ll be looking to make the market bigger in the next couple of years.”

For one of the labels on board, Sony (NYSE: SNE) BMG’s digital VP Ian Henderson: “We’re really excited – we hope they can get it off the ground and get as much distribution as possible.”