College oriented social network, Facebook, announced a "Back to School" partnership today that could have been an interesting teachable moment about buying music online through legal means. Instead the deal will offer millions of “samplers,” preselected playlists of 25 songs per genre, given to Facebook users for free. What’s the lesson here? That the iTunes music store is a highly controlled environment that provides an inferior user experience compared to P2P networks. Twenty five free songs of your choice would have made a much cooler promotion.
Ten million “samplers” will be given away over the next ten weeks, so that’s the equivalent of $247,500,000 worth of downloads at full price. But of course music downloads are in reality almost free, so they aren’t spending much money on it. Facebook and iTunes have had a long running relationship prior to this promotion and few new customers are likely to be introduced to the iTunes Music Store for the first time as a result of it. The theory may be that students will discover new bands through the promotion and will then buy more songs from those artists. It seems more likely to me that a large number of those students will take their free songs from iTunes and then download entire albums via the P2P networks they learn about from their school mates.