Thursday, March 17, 2005

On music

Today's New York Times has an interesting article on digital music services. Specifically, it compares Napster to Apple's iTunes/iPod combo.

The gist of it is that subscription services like Napster's aren't all bad, but right now it suffers from a couple of major shortcomings: inconsistent licensing (not all songs can be downloaded under the subscription plan, some require purchase), and the fact that it doesn't work with the iPod - since the iPod family dominates the digital music field. Napster runs a rather deceptive ad plugging their service which debuted during the Super Bowl, comparing their service to iTunes by saying "it costs $10,000 to fill an iPod, but only $15 to fill a player from Napster. Of course, the $15 is a monthly fee that you have to pay forever, but that's besides the point.

Anyhow, thus far Apple's dealt with the "try before you buy" model by giving you the ability to play a 30-second preview of any song before you purchase it. The subscription model has its pluses - mainly the ability to sample lots of stuff you might not otherwise listen to. But you also need to be able to own your music - which Apple makes easier than anyone else. Ultimately I think the best answer is to have a cheap subscription available for an arbitrary amount under $10/month. And allow up to, say, 100 songs per month to be active under the subscription. That way, the user is either turning over their inventory regularly, or they're converting the songs to paid and adding them to their permanent collection.

All I can say is that if Apple does add subscriptions as an option, Napster is toast. And by the way, the $10,000 that Napster cites in their ad? That assumes that you buy every single song on your maximum-capacity iPod as a single from the iTunes store. It does not assume that you have existing CDs to rip, or music from any other source.

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