Thursday, August 23, 2007

The King Has No Clothes (and is Dead). Long Live the King.

I have been on both sides of the subscription music business. I led the product group at AOL that acquired/relaunched AOL Music Now (unfortunately dealt away to Napster) - and I have subscribed to virtually all the competitors. I have been a big fan of the value proposition that subscription music business brings - in spite of itself and all the hoops it makes consumers jump through. If you haven't already, you should read some of my (ever-evolving) thoughts about the state of the market in some of my older posts.

But, as a consumer I have recently sworn off DRM (and Microsoft products/technologies in general to a large degree, but that's a different story) - after years of trying to convince myself and others that DRM is "no big deal". Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right? The turning point for me was the realization that people (like my wife) would have a portable player full of content (that I had to put on there for her) that would never play because all of the licenses were expired. With her being only a part-time computer user, the job would then fall on my shoulders to continually manage her player, download the tracks she wanted and keep it all working. Major pain in the ass.

And yes... Apple obviously uses/has used DRM for a long time too - but to their credit, they simplified the model so that you would never run into the issue of "dead" content on an iPod (since they don't do subscription they don't have to worry about renewing the licenses on a monthly basis).

I still give Rhapsody my $15/month - although I'm not sure for how long considering I broke down and got an iPhone (more on that later). Their issues (and those of the new "Rhapsody America") are the same as they have always been... subscription content doesn't play on an iPod/iPhone. And who in the marketplace doesn't want/have an iPod or iPhone? It's like the kids 30 years ago who's parents bought him a "Magnavox Odyssey2" video game system when the rest of the planet had an Atari 2600 (unfortunately, that was me).

I truly believe that a marketplace with ubiquitous high-speed IP access and multi-function mobile phones solves all of theses issues - but realistically that is still a couple of years off (keep an eye on Sprint... uh, I mean "Xohm"... and their 4G/WiMax rollout) for early adopters and probably 5+ years for the mass market.

So, until then my new digital music M.O. is iPhone + eMusic + DRMless MP3 purchases (some from iTunes even they are actually AAC files, some from gBox, some from Amazon) + free-range MP3 streaming and "acquisition" (SkreemR, Hype Machine, Seeqpod, etc.) + library sharing (via Simplify Media) + personalized streaming services (more on that soon). What the market really needs is a destination that aggregates all these options into a single place - there are a couple that are starting to do this now - and I'm sure more will follow (will it be Google?).

The two year AT&T contract that I had to sign for my iPhone will expire just as it is time to move back to an all-you-can eat subscription model....


Anonymous said...

Regarding your comment on aggregating all the music sites. You are right, we need a site that, given a search query, will give us a list of all the music sites that sell the song we just searched for and in what format they provide it. Even better, since I don't buy DRM music, the query should contain a "DRM-less Only" checkbox so I don't get any results for buying DRM music.

What makes this difficult and the reason why nobody has jumped into the idea is that few of these sites will provide an API so 3rd party applications can "talk" to them. In the meantime, anybody that need to talk to one of these services that don't have an API need to jump through some programming hoops to get search their sites.

I am optimistic that this will be available in the future : )

J Chris A said...


Enjoy the iPhone!'s got a free-range mp3 player for iPhone that you might enjoy.

As far as DRM goes, I've been using Emusic for sometime now, and my only gripe with it is that they take too long to get new-releases via the CD Baby digital release program.

Anonymous said...

Since we are on the topic of emusic, I have another gripe about them. They have too many CDs in which the orignal artists do *NOT* play the songs. I wouldn't mind as much if they weren't too sneaky about it - they try to hide the fact that they are not the original artists to fool customers into downloading the songs. Still a great service, don't get me wrong. I've been a subscriber for a few months now and I love it - that is just a minor nuisance that I have to put up with.

jherskowitz said...

I've got some new thoughts on this topic here:

Anonymous said...

At least your Odyssey2 was new when you got it.

My parents got one for me at a garage sale when everyone else had a Nintendo.

I bet you could trace a lot of my personality quirks back to the ridicule from the next day at school