I recently blogged about the fact that I was looking at my options for what music device and service would be my next purchase. The sexiest devices are clearly from Apple now - but the business model is the thing I don't want.
My music collection up until 2 years ago was completely stuck in physical media. Tons of CDs and cassettes. In the past I had 8-tracks (yes, I had a few. I wish I still had my The Who, Who Are You 8-track just for the sake of a really cool collectible.), and records before that. Funny thing - I bought more than a few albums 2 or three times on different media over the years, and moreover had friends permanently borrow others that I had to repurchase.
Along comes ripping and suddenly I have the ability to drop my whole collection onto my creative labs device - that was cool. But, through all of that, I went for about 10 years without buying more than 2 or 3 albums a year compared with the dozens I purchased during college and my early 20s. As a music listener - my favorite thing about the new music services is the easy exposure to new bands based on recommendations and services that help you find new stuff. So, my interest in new music has been rekindled and I want to find new bands now, all the time. I love finding new bands I like - that is the most important feature of a music service.
So, what is the business model issue here?
As a consumer, I have been trained over decades to want to "own" my music. Which is of course really only a license to listen to that music (but that is for the copyright nerds). I don't want anyone to have the ability to block me from my music. Right? Turns out, wrong.
The music industry is going through a pivotal point in its history. The old models are giving way to the online music services and the frightening (to the music business people) concept of limitless, persistent quality, redistribution.
The truth for me as a consumer is that I just want to have access to as much music as possible for as little cost as possible. Yet, I respect the idea of IP - and as a musician myself - really want to see continued incentive to artists to create. So, I have landed on subscription services as my favored model.
I bought a Zune 8GB device and am paying $15/month for unlimited downloads. I can experiment with unlimited abandon without paying per track for stuff that I ultimately delete from my machine. I can download stand-up comics, listen to them once and delete them. I can download speeches and other commentary - and delete them. I just wish the Zune guys would figure out audio books as well.
I found some rumors of Apple moving to a subscription service offering as well. If they do that - it would be extremely cool given the range of content on iTunes. But - the rumor that I saw was $100/month - WOW. At $15/month I will pay $180 a year to have >$2000 of content if I had bought it at $.99/track. I don't know that would be as excited to pay $1200 for that honor.
The biggest hurdle for the consumer on the subscription service is that when you stop paying the service, the music goes away. Ok, that sucks...or does it. It just happened to me when my Urge network went belly-up and they moved me to Rhapsody. I had a bad user experience at Rhapsody, looked around, and moved to Zune. I stopped paying one service and started paying another, had to go through the pain of downloading a bunch of music again - but am now perfectly happy with my music again - and am still ahead financially.
If there were dozens of subscription services to choose from then consumers would have peace-of-mind and will get to listen to more music.