Why Sony's retail approach to MP3s isn't inherently stupid

Sony BMG has revealed its post-Timberlake MP3 plans. Beginning on January 15, big-box retailers like Best Buy and Target will carry gift cards similar to the fluorescent iTunes vouchers popping up in grocery checkouts. Unlike the Apple certificates, these don't have a dollar amount attached to them, good for any music. Instead Sony, gazing unhappily at the 14 percent drop in CD sales, is trying to replace compact discs with MP3-redeemable cards.

On its face, this would seem a backwards ploy, and most tech bloggers have derided it as such. Wouldn't it make more sense to skip retail altogether? But there's a reason why Sony handed this story to USA Today for a writeup. Americans living outside the technohip bubble of San Francisco spend a lot of time at megaretailers. Retailers, who still sell a lot of CDs, despite the decline, are happy because the cards promote impulse purchases and require far less shelf space. Musicians are happy because the purchase requires the sale of an entire album, not individual songs. Sony's happy because a retail presence means wider exposure for its artists. The one thing we don't get? The premise that the cards will somehow become collectible. Recyclable is more like it. With so many obvious virtues to tout, Sony's marketers deserve a razzing for picking that obtuse angle to promote this move.