By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 12:47 am
I feel really sorry for the companies, such as Real (with its Rhapsody service), Best Buy (with Napster), and Microsoft (with Zune Pass) that sell subscription music services. Rationally, subscription music makes perfect sense: You pay one monthly rate and get access to the service’s entire library. You can gorge all you want, and if you download an album that turns out not to tickle your fancy, you’ve only wasted a little time.
But none of these services have caught on with the American public on an emotional level–certainly not enough to make them into viable threats to the dominance of Apple’s iPod and iTunes. Apple’s sold billions of songs through iTunes, even though the price of a single album can be the same as other services’ monthly all-you-can-eat flat fee. Every time a consumer downloads a song, it’s a vote in favor of owning music rather than renting it.
Every once in awhile, an Apple competitor tries to make subscriptions sound sexy–or at least smart–via advertising. The latest example is this new Microsoft ad for Zune Pass:
Of course, as Ars Technica notes, Wes Moss–who’s a real guy–does blithely ignore the crucial distinction between digital music’s subscription and buy-to-own variants. Stop paying Microsoft your $14.99 a month, and all your music goes away, but the 99 cents you blow on an iTunes track makes it yours to keep. On the other hand, Moss also doesn’t mention a notable virtue of Zune Pass: the monthly fee lets you keep ten songs. So at least he’s glossing over important facts in a balanced fashion.
An odder thing about the ad: While it shows an iPod, It doesn’t even mention the Zune explicitly. Unless you’re paying reasonably close attention to the digital music wars, it might be unclear to you that what Microsoft is suggesting is that you go out and buy a hardware device called a Zune. I’m not sure if this is intentional on the company’s part–it may be sick of people making fun of its poor little audio player–or what.
Despite everything, Microsoft has a point here: Anyone who’s considering buying a music player should at least consider whether buying one that supports subscriptions is a smarter move than springing for an iPod. (I suspect I’m in the same camp as a lotta folks, though–I’d switch from buying music to subscribing it in a heartbeat…if you could do so and still own an iPod or iPhone.)
I have my doubts, though, whether Microsoft’s subscription salesmanship will find much more success than that of this old Napster ad, which makes the same point in a radically different fashion, stylewise: