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New at Reason: The future of online music sales puts a song in Jeff Taylor's heart.

NEXT: Visceral Reaction

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  1. Jobs is essentially saying that informal, free networks can supply this service for everyone, which seems a stretch.

    That’s not what he’s saying. What he’s saying is people prefer to buy songs, not rent them. And he’s right. With some subscription services, your songs disappear if you cancel your subscription. They are not yours to keep, even if you have “purchased” them separately from your subscription fee. That?s the model Jobs is saying is “doomed to fail.”

  2. What he’s saying is people prefer to buy songs, not rent them. And he’s right.

    It depends on whether you see these subscription services as a substitute for CDs or for radio. As a substitute for CDs (or for a hard drive full of permanently downloaded MP3s), they fail, and you’ve just put your finger on why. As a substitute for radio, the issue gets trickier; the question becomes whether people are willing to pay for a previously free good if it means they’ll get something much more closely tailored to their tastes. (And whether the subscription service does a good job supplying those tastes.)

    I think Jeff makes a decent case that the willingness is there. Time will tell if he’s right.

  3. I think that Jobs is right when he says that people want to own music rather than rent it for a period that will expire. I started using iTunes as my full-time stereo system quite some time ago. All of my CDs were ripped to the hard drive and then the CDs were put away in a drawer. I have good speakers attached to the computer and the sound quality is just as good as when I used to play CDs. When I added an iPod, it was even more useful.

    Then the iTunes music store came along and made things even better. I can legally (and morally) download most things I want instantly, they sound just as good as the music off my CDs (to my ears, anyway) and the rights management system Apple uses gives me the power to burn those songs to CD as much as I want. I burn a CD of a purchased album and put it in the drawer with the rest of my CDs. It’s now in a format that allows me to do with it anything I could have done with a music CD I bought at a store.

    On the other hand, if I pay a subscription service, I don’t get to keep what I pay for. I can listen to all I want, I suppose, but I have to HOPE they have what I want when I pay in advance (not knowing what I’ll want in the future), and if the company shuts down, I have nothing to show for my money — at least in the sense of having something I can use again.

    A subscription model seems to work fine for cable television, but I’ll be surprised if it works for music. If people can either listen to free radio or listen to their own music, I don’t think most people will find the extra expense worthwhile, especially since many (most?) of the playlist-type features that made them seem insteresting in the beginning are built into iTunes now.

    Maybe I’m mistaken — and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time — but I think Jobs is right on this one. Of course, it COULD just be the famous Steve Jobs “reality distortion field” at work. 🙂

  4. “I think that Jobs is right when he says that people want to own music rather than rent it for a period that will expire. ”

    I think the reality is somewhere in the middle. Most consumers DO rent their music. How many people buy a CD, listen to it for a little while, and it winds up collecting dust 2 years later never to be played again? What consumers want is the option to let it collect dust, delete it, etc. and not leave that period of time up to anyone but themselves. This is actually even more related to why it becomes a substitute for radio, buying records was simply the only other option available.

    I used to listen to the radio religiously, and bought at least 1 record/CD a week. With an MP3 player and downloadable music, I’ve discovered my habits have changed so much that I almost never listen to the radio anymore, I buy about 2 CD’s a month at most, and I download maybe 5 or 6 tracks a month. And my total music listening hasn’t changed. When I do hear something new that I like, I’ll either wait until it is released on vinyl or download the track if absolutely necessary.

  5. Taylor calls for “a copyright holder to be daring and do something like offer their out-of-print back catalog up for cheap downloads. ”

    There is one such service on the internet that I have used extensively http://www.emusic.com. The site uses a subscription model, but allows users to download, keep and copy the files. You won’t find Britney Spears or the Rolling Stones there, but they have tens of thousands of albums by others in a wide variety of genres. The site won’t meet all your needs, but it is a very cheap way to add to your music library.

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