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why subscription music services suck

The other day I was reading about Yahoo!’s new music service, which sounds to me like a cheaper version of Napster-To-Go. Or, in other words, a music subscription service. And, of course, once again I was reading about the imminent death of the iTunes music store, the iPod, and Apple.

Now, while I recognize that some folks would certainly find a subscription service useful, most analysis on this subject always seems to forget one thing: people consume music differently than most other media.

This was highlighted in a comment:

If you stop thinking of music as something you own and start thinking of it as something transient you enjoy and discard, [the subscription service is] much easier to accept.

I mean, we’re all ga-ga for netflix, right?

I subscribe to NetFlix, and, indeed, it is quite nice. But here is the thing: when I watch a movie once, I’m usually done with it. When I watch a movie more than once, I top out at about 10 viewings, with very very rare exceptions. When I buy a CD, I will listen to it hundreds of times (unless it sucks). I’m not unusual in this way.

Music we consume over and over again. Renting music that you love is a bad idea.

The music subscription service has its place among a segment of the market: it is a controllable, nice way to explore new music. I, however, have another, older technique for doing that. I call it “radio”.

Update: I forgot that in my area, local broadcast radio actually sucks for this. I would more accurately say “Internet radio”, or “satellite radio”, or, an even more low-tech method: friends.

Written on May 12, 2005.

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