Mar 19

Nat Torkington

Nat Torkington

Subscription Music: Which Is It?

The question is: given Yahoo!'s decision that DRM subscription music doesn't work, why does Apple think they can make it work? The lifetime payment idea sounds a reasonable one: the iPod has a slightly higher cost but it comes with infinite downloads. Most important about that model is that it hides the payment to music companies; remember, by misinterpreting p2p ("the market wants convenient digital music" was interpreted as "some dorks are stealing our stuff!") and then by acting like bullyboys as they futilely chase the people they wish were customers, the labels have created a generation that expects music to be free.

Then again, it may well be that mobile devices operate under different economic rules than desktop ones: in New Zealand, Vodafone sells more music singles than any other outlet, including the iTunes Music Store (that fact's in the comments of the article, not the body). I run a very dumb phone because I enjoy being away from email, and I'd buy a bridge before I bought a music single on my phone, so I'm probably not the best person to assess the viability of the phone. I realize this is probably like asking, "why do kids these days dress so funny?" but I have a question for readers: can you help me understand why people pay money for music on a phone when they already have a laptop full of music?

tags: copyright  | comments: 9   | Sphere It

Previous  |  Next

0 TrackBacks

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments: 9

  HG [03.19.08 05:45 AM]

I used Yahoo's service and continue to use Napster. Both were/are awful interfaces. Slow and hard-to-use.

But, there are several reasons to use a subscription and especially good reasons to have it on a phone:

  • I want to eliminate multiple devices. If I can put my music on my phone, my MP3 player goes away. I personally do not keep my music on my laptop as you do.
  • I'm a bit older, so I hate the thought of stealing music. This is a legal way of having access to a wide variety of music.
  • Here's the big one: I like to sample a wide variety of music. Then, discard it. If I purchase the music, I have more attachment and am more reluctant to purchase it. The subscription services have old, new, and obscure music that I would never bother purchasing.

Obscure music is a very important part of a subscription service. One example: I play piano and want to learn a new song. I can download 6-8 different versions of the same song from the subscription service. I would only download one if I purchased it outright.

  Lone Writer [03.19.08 08:18 AM]

Subscription services seem to benefit those who want quantity more than any other factor, so it seems targetted to the young who are still figuring out their tastes. How does it apply to older people who know each of the 45 CDs they like, and are just going to go buy them?

  LW [03.19.08 09:53 AM]


I'd look carefully at the comment on Vodafone in NZ. My bet is that those sales are ringtones. Your ringtone is a signal as to who you are and how cool you are, so kids turn them over quickly to show that they're up to date on the latest trend.

On the other hand, youriPod is primarily music that you listen to privately and says nothing about your identity unless you let someone actually scroll through your playlists.

As a result, people will pay for music when it broadcasts their identity but don't want to pay for it when it's simply something they consume privately.

My 2 cents.

  Taufe [03.19.08 12:31 PM]

I think think it is modern to do it this way.


  pwb [03.19.08 01:09 PM]

One (or even several) providers failing at something has little bearing on another provider being able to do the same or similar successfully.

  Katherine Doubek [03.19.08 03:21 PM]

What we're questioning here isn't the sale of recorded music - it's the application of that sale. Physical media became quickly irrelevant with the advent of the internet - not as a means of music distribution, but as a means of social connection. I wrote about this in my article "Mental Pollution, Social Pollution" (under the RIAA header):

Before the advent of the internet as a social medium, people had to physically visit each other. Historically, a bonding ritual between peers of roughly equivalent backgrounds has been music. Each would build an equivalent amount of social capital in their relationship with the other when their music tastes roughly analog.

Nowadays, if I want to talk with someone, those instruments of social capital generation have shifted. We're looking at myspace and facebook profiles, the creativity of non-musical expressions, instant messenger icons, and /substance/ of presentation as a trade-off to style. Because music has lost its social value in this deteriorating setting (ref. "Bowling Alone"), the social value of recorded music has also declined. I described this under the "Intellectual property and Pareto" header of another article:

Because cellphone ringtones still serve this social purpose - that is, they build social capital in relationships outside the binary space. This is based on the same analog we saw before in living rooms clustered around a record player, but is decontextualized enough to allow for profitability.

Apologies for the academic-speak here - I'm in the middle of writing my undergrad thesis on linguistic constructions of IP law. This article was a welcome diversion.

  Katherine Doubek [03.19.08 03:25 PM]

Oh, I should also mention:

To bring back the previously-discussed social capacity for music application (and consequently increase legal, digital music sales - regardless of DRM), all you'll have to do is give the iPod a speaker, preferably one that's not a third-party afterthought.

Just my three cents.

  Thomas Lord [03.19.08 04:00 PM]

Because they are bored.

  B. Waite [03.20.08 10:21 AM]

Teenagers tend to listen to the music that is popular with their peers. Given that styles change frequently, I would hypothesize that they view their mobile music purchases as a disposable commodity. If it’s not going to be in fashion in a month, why do you need a permanent copy?

Post A Comment:

 (please be patient, comments may take awhile to post)

Type the characters you see in the picture above.