Digital Music - Subscription Services

Unfortunately a combination of factors (time, money and the law) meant that I wasn't able to actually try any subscription services. However, I did the next best thing and scoured the internet to get a feel for what they involve. They are quite intriguing indeed......

For those who don't know, these things work by giving you unlimited access to their catalogue (usually in the order of 2 million tracks) for a flat monthly fee. You can download and listen to as much as you want and in some cases, fill your mp3 player up with the music. The catch? You don’t own the music. In essence you are renting it rather than buying it. Still, at $15 a month, this all-you-can-eat option seems pretty enticing. So why has it done poorly? This was the business model that looked set to revolutionise the music industry. Why isn’t everybody taking it up?

For starters, every service out there is heavily tied to Microsoft. You must use a Window’s PC, you need a certified ‘Playforsure’ mp3 player and you are required to use either proprietary software or Windows Media Player. This is problematic because, let’s face it, Microsoft’s DRM technology is flawed. Sadly, more often than not, you’ll find yourself fighting the system, rather than enjoying it.

Secondly, these catalogues with millions of tracks are still missing a considerable amount of music. They cater towards more mainstream audiences, leaving a lot of independent (ie good) music out. Any music lover with half-decent tastes will find these services falling short of their needs. Finally, people simply like to own their music. It’s something to treasure. With subscription services, you don't get to keep any of it (unless you want to pay more). If the service was to suddenly shut down, you’d be left with nothing.

Now this has been a rather negative account and to be honest, it’s really not fair for me to rip into them when I’ve never even tried them out. However, I am merely trying to offer some insight into why these services haven’t taken off. As far as potential goes, I think they are incredible. If someone was to get it right, with a service that catered to my tastes and was easy to use, I’d be the first to jump on board. All reports seem to suggest that these services are gradually improving, so I may not have to wait that long.

Unfortunately these services aren’t available in Australia so I couldn’t try them if I wanted to. They are mostly based in America, though UK and European listeners should be able to find a couple. The dominant force appears to be Rhapsody, while Yahoo! Music Unlimited and Napster seem to be big competitors. If you’re interested, be sure to do plenty of research beforehand.

Next: The Mighty iTunes

1 comment:

Kristi Joy said...

Good points - can't wait to hear what you have to say about iTunes ;-)