What happens when you make it easier to pay for content rather than to steal it?
Subscription music services put massive music libraries at your fingertips for only a few dollars per month. Now you can listen to the latest acts as well as trawl through your favourite artists’ back catalogues. You can even discover new artists based on your music tastes.
If you buy more than half a dozen CDs each year then a subscription music service could make a lot of sense. Services such as Rhapsody have been popular in the US for several years but they only started to take off in Australia last year. Hardware makers such as Samsung, Sony, Nokia, Blackberry and Microsoft’s Zune have all offered Australian subscription music services to run on their various gadgets. Apple has also launched iTunes Match but it’s not actually an all-you-can-eat subscription service. Instead it only lets you stream music you already own.
While hardware makers have been quick off the mark locally, we’ve also seen the rise of device-agnostic subscription music services such as Rdio and Songl. The highly respected Spotify is also expected to launch in Australia soon, which will shake things up. These services let you listen via computers, tablets, smartphones and multi-room audio systems such as Sonos.
What’s really interesting about these subscription services is not just that they grant access to millions of tracks, but that they make it so easy to play them. You can search for your favourite artist, choose an album or song and start listening in under 10 seconds. The sound quality is usually as good as if you’d rip it from CD yourself. That’s a very tempting proposition for people who tend to steal music by waiting for it to download from file-sharing services.
The growth of legitimate online music services proves that there is a market out there. Many people are prepared to pay for content if you don’t make them jump through too many hoops and treat them like a criminal when they’re trying to do the right thing.
Apple’s iTunes store is a great example of how people respond to a good service at a reasonable price. All of the movies and music on the iTunes store are available for free on file-sharing services if you go looking for them. Yet Apple has sold more than 10 billion songs. Apple’s success is not because people don’t know about the illegitimate alternatives. Its success is due to the fact that Apple makes paying for content easier than stealing it.
There will always be some people who steal content, regardless of how easy it is to do the right thing. And there will always be some people who “buy” content, regardless of how easy it is to “rent” it using subscription services. But as the NBN makes high-speed internet access ubiquitous, more and more people will embrace online subscription services — letting them enjoy what they want, where and when they want it.
For now subscription music services are more likely to complement people’s music libraries rather than replace them. But the day will come when owning content, whether you bought it or stole it, will seem like more trouble than it’s worth for most people.