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Tag Archives: Subscription music

Can Subscription Music Curb Piracy?

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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.


Does Streaming Music Sound Right?

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The past couple of months has seen an explosion in services that offer streaming and stored music access for a set monthly fee. Sony’s got its Qriocity service, Samsung offers up its Music Hub, JB Hi-Fi offers its NOW service, and the latest service to launch is Rdio, another streaming service that’s been available internationally for some time now.

Despite the (slightly) differing pricing, the core of all these services is basically the same. You pay a set monthly fee, with cheaper subscriptions offering a smaller subset of either features or methods of access, build up playlists of artists and then have your subscription period to listen to “your” music as much as you’d like. Some services are more closely tied to specific technology platforms — so it’s no shock that there’s a Qriocity client for the Playstation 3, or for that matter a Music Hub application for the Galaxy SII and Galaxy Tab — but it’s still music. The hook for all of them is the breadth of the offering; for around ten dollars a month you’re getting much more than the equivalent amount would buy you in cold hard compact discs.

Well, sort of. The big and most obvious difference between buying a CD and these kinds of services is that you never actually own the music you’re paying for. Buy a CD and you own it; you can listen to it endlessly, quite legally transfer it to other devices for your own personal listening pleasure or use it as a shiny coaster if you have a sudden epiphany and decide that, say, Romanian trumpet sonatas aren’t actually all that thrilling after all. Whereas with a subscription, all you’ve got is the time you’ve paid for, and that’s all.

In case you’re concerned about the absolute value of a service, it’s worth noting that most of them offer some kind of limited time trial period for you to peruse their archives and make sure that their musical selection matches yours. Everyone’s tastes are different, and there’s bound to be some obscure tracks that are missed over; most of these services do cater to the mainstream.

In one sense, streaming music isn’t all that different from the way that many people enjoy video entertainment; while many folks own impressive DVD or Blu-Ray collections, there’s plenty more who plunk down a set number of dollars each month for a Foxtel or Austar subscription, and that’s entertainment that’s solidly there while it’s being watched and then gone.


Music To Your Ears?

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Fifteen years ago, if you wanted music for your computer, it was a pretty simple affair. You went out, and you bought a CD from a shop — or  perhaps via mail order if you were a serious distance from the nearest CD store.

CDs are all but dead in the market today; while it’s still possible to find music stores, they’re a dying breed, and the range they offer pales in comparison to the offerings that can be found online. Apple’s iTunes still dominates the local scene in terms of outright sales,  and while we’re stuck paying slightly higher rates for individual tracks than, say, American consumers  –an unfortunate legacy of the kinds of deals that Apple struck with the major name labels, although Apple clearly isn’t suffering for charging a little extra anyway.

But you’re not limited to iTunes, especially if you’re not fussed about music ownership anyway. No, I’m not advocating music piracy — far  from it. Recent months have seen a number of online music subscription services emerge in the local market, offering access to potentially millions of tracks for a single set fee. You don’t keep the tracks you’re listening to, but then you’re not charged by volume; instead simply a monthly fee for access, rather like PayTV. Sony has a service labelled as Qriocity, Microsoft has Zune Music Pass and Blackberry has the not terribly inventively named Blackberry Music locally; it’s expected that online service provider Rdio will launch in Australia sometime in the new year.

It might seem counterintuitive to pay for music on your computer (or smartphone, or tablet — most of these services will work across multiple devices, because you’re typically signing into a service rather than downloading a file) that you don’t get to keep, but the subscription model has some definite upsides. There’s the obvious appeal of having access to millions of tracks; while there may be thousands you don’t care for, that kind of wide spread virtually assures you of being able to find something you’ll like. Many of them will offer initial short trial periods, so you can ensure that you’re happy with what’s on offer. Access to lots of music is also a great way to widen your musical horizon, and most services will suggest similar artists to those you’re already listening to. That can have social aspects as well; the recently launched Blackberry Music does limit the number of tracks you can access on your smartphone, but cleverly allows you to “share” your collection with other Blackberry Music listeners. If you’ve got lots of friends, in other words, your collection could be massive — and you’ll also get an insight into their tastes along the way.


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