Virgin Digital downloads for the last time

The dangers of hooking yourself up to a DRM-enabled music rental store which could go bang at any moment are highlighted today with the news that Virgin Digital customers will lose all their music when the store closes its doors next month.

Virgin Digital was a two-year old Windows Media-based alternative to Apple’s iTunes, but it stopped selling one-off downloads last week and next month their songs will no longer be playable, thanks to DRM imitations built into each track.

Virgin announced the move via an email to customers this weekend. Their only option is to back-up their tracks or attempt to burn them to a CD and re-import them as MP3s. Not an easy task where hundreds of albums are concerned. Virgin gave no reason for the shut-down, but it is offering UK subscribers a free month’s usage of “Virgin Media’s music streaming service” – a new service the combined broadband, cable TV and mobile phone network will be announcing this week. US subscribers will have their Virgin Digital pre-pay cards and vouchers honoured by Napster.

This is the latest music store to be squeezed between the leading iTunes, Napster UK and “illegal” sites like Russia’s, which sold non-DRM MP3s for as little at $0.10 each and which – until its closure through legal action in July this year – accounted for more sales than all the UK music stores combined, outside of iTunes.