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Napster Ad Nails It

I’ve long been arguing that the best marketing pitch for subscription music services is the ability to avoid buying duff albums. For a while, I subscribed to Napster for just this – but, when I found an album I liked, I bought it from iTunes Music Store. So I was pleased to see David Card of Jupiter Research make the same point:

Just saw a banner ad for Napster. “Never Buy a CD with Only One Good Track Again.” Bingo. That is exactly what the near-term pitch for subscription music services should be. For now, these services are a better way to discover what you want to buy on a CD (or download), rather than a wholesale replacement for physical products. Even sophisticated fans and file sharers value a physical product more than a digital one.

It’s a point that a lot of proponents of Apple’s approach miss out on. If you’re the kind of person that invests £50 a month on music, then that £10 a month subscription to Napster can easily end up saving you money. The only reason that I stopped subscribing to Napster was that the Mac mini took over from my old PC as the main machine in the living room – and with no Napster support for the Mac, that was the end of that subscription.

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  • monoclast

    Sorry; but that’s just silly. You make it sound like iTunes doesn’t offer a way to preview each track before you buy it – which is a load of bull. In fact, you can preview any track before buying it on iTunes music store. Therefore you know whether or not a track is good before you buy it! Your whole argumeent falls flat on its face.

    What your article does not address is the fact that with a subscription service, you do not own ANY of your music. That means if you stop paying your monthly dues, you LOSE the music you spent all that time downloading and organizing.

    Subscriber: “Crap – I forgot to pay my bill and now I have to redownload all my music!”

    Napster: “Want to actually own and keep that music you downloaded from your nifty subscription service? That’ll be another $99 (or whatever) per track, please, on top of your monthly subscription charge.”

    The truth: Subscription services are cheaper only to those who cannot do simple math without a calculator. The ONLY reason there is such a big push for subscription services is because Big Music *knows* they will make *much* more money off you. It’s sad that a lot of people, like you, don’t seem to realize that.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Listening to the first 30 seconds of a song isn’t a good way of judging if it’s worthy buying. How much can you tell about “Stairway to Heaven” from its first 30 seconds? How much can you tell about “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand? The problem is even worse in classical music and other non-pop genres, where “songs” tend to be long and complex.

    Like I (and David Card) have said: subscription services are great ways of finding out if you really want to buy something. And nothing, of course, prevents you from buying the songs outright, either from iTMS or Napster (which also sells songs outright – a fact you seem to either ignore or be unaware of).

  • Bias Alert

    Subscription services are not the only way to find out if you want to buy something. You can always download music you’re interested in from P2P networks. In Canada, the courts have ruled that this falls within the fair use provisions of copyright law, so why would I bother paying for a monthly subscription?

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    I’d be interested to find out which ruling gave users the right to download music and listen to it for that purpose – but if your local law allows, that is indeed a good option. Most local laws, alas, don’t.

  • Kevin J. Weise

    I still don’t get this article. You make it sound as if the only way available to you to decide if you like an album is to download it from the internet. Don’t you have any friends? Don’t you listen to anything other than your downloaded music? It sounds to me as though you’ve bought into the Napster spin, especially the part where they subliminally tell you “Ignore the part about not owning your music. You want to pay us every month for the rest of your life.”

    I take it back somewhat. The only part I get about this is that Napster is a business trying to make a buck by preying upon those with weak minds & weak math skills.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Kevin, I understand perfectly well about buying music – which is why I do exactly that. But by using a subscription service in tandem with iTMS, I get the best of both worlds: I can try before I buy.

    Yes, I have friends, but they don’t always share my musical tastes and often having bought/acquired what I want to listen to. Nor does any friend have the catalogue that Napster does. Importantly, with Napster I can just listen to anything that takes my fancy, and explore links between bands through the “also recommended” and playlists features.

  • Steve

    A lot of Mac/iPod/iTunes users keep trashing the subscription services. I can understand it. I love iTunes and the ITMS on my Mac. I don’t want to see them get marginalized and discontinued by competitors. Mac users live in fear of that for a pretty good reason. With online music purchases, the fear is even more intense since there is no way for a Mac user to access Napster-To-Go or Microsoft’s Music Store or any of the others that use the Microsoft DRM (It doesn’t work with any Macintosh computers).

    When people say, “Forget iTunes pay per song service – I’m going to use Napster and have thousands of songs.” what your typical Mac user hears is, “I’m going to support the service that you can’t use and will also put your store out of business!” Naturally, this is upsetting and evokes the typical Mac-user response . . . denial.

    I’m not trolling here because I am one of those users. I have dozens of reasons why a subscription service won’t work, why the ITMS is better, and how everyone else who thinks the competition is better is a sheep – a good number of them are fairly compelling too.

    none more than this one – 85% of the portable music players out there are iPods, and the iPod won’t play mp3s from any store that uses the Microsoft DRM. The number of users who can actually take advantage of the subscription services is too small to support the number of stores that are being put out there.

    That said, I wish it were different.

    Yes, I am a Mac user who would really like to have access to a subscription service because I think it would be a fun and cool way to find new bands, performers, and recordings that I had never heard of before. Right now, the only way I can do that isn’t awful (record internet radio overnight and play it on my iPod the next day), but I’ll bet there are some really great ways to create huge playlists of music I haven’t heard, but a music store thinks I might like.

    There are rumors that Apple has a subscription service ready for deployment should they start to lose market share, but something tells me that might not be the best way to handle the issue since the subscription services will only gain market share if people stop buying iPods and switch over to other mp3 players. Then, it will be too late. Those lost customers will not be able to switch back.

    I love my Mac, and I love my iPod (purchased primarily because of the easy interfacing with iTunes), but I can’t hide my fears and scream, “Apple’s store is the best system and everything else sucks!” because it just isn’t true. Everyone else doesn’t suck; they just aren’t like me. As a long-time Mac user, it can be a bitter pill to swallow sometimes.

  • jbelkin

    First, if can’t tell STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN is a great song after 30 seconds …

    The problem with subscription service is this. Who wants to spend all that time each month playing DJ for tracks you DON’T OWN? PEople hire others to rip CD’s for them – so who’s going to spend hundreds of hours EVERY MONTH arranging tracks you like enough to listen to but NOT ENOUGH to own?

    Face it, subscriptions are for people who want to stream record and make Mp3’s out of those tracks – nothing wrong with that but it’s sort of like renting a movie and having to edit it yourself. It’s fine if you have that much free time but for the rest of us, we’d rather listen to professional playlists (satellite radio) or fun playlists (internet radio) or just buy the damn CD or track and be done with it (and still be able to rip any of the tracks).

    … And if I’m so concerned I might be wasting a few bucks, how many artists so NOT offer FREE streaming on the label site, on their own site or on Amazon? Very few AND they’ve arranged all the tracks for me … so while it’s great you have a lot of free time, the rest of us would rather be listening to music than re-arranging them.

  • jdb

    Some people will find a subscription service valuable as a preview service but there are serious flaws in that marketing scheme. Napster is expensive as a preview service. The new Yahoo subscription (still only available in the US as far as I know) has a low enough price that it might be appealing. The problem is that no one believes that Yahoo can continue that low price for very long.

    I know one or two people who use subscription services to find and listen to new music. They don’t use a portable player and they only use the subscription at work. I know at least 10 people who own an iPod and listen to it many times during the day at different locations.

    There is no way that subscription services are going to be successful if they only are attractive to 10% to 20% of the music buying public. The basic problem is that people who listen to music that they have personally selected and purchased generally don’t have much interest in being their own DJ. It is time consuming enough just to put together a few playlists much less starting out with perhaps just a genre but no favorites to start with. This is as opposed to those searching for music they haven’t heard before who are willing to invest their time (or their employer’s time) to find interesting songs.

    It comes down to a simple question. How big of a market is one where customers are willing to spend significant time downloading and arranging music that they haven’t heard before but who aren’t very interested in owning the same. You can argue that people can do both but a $10-$15 per month investment is pretty much more than I currently spend on buying music. That doesn’t leave much money in a budget for purchasing music that I already like.

  • paul

    “Listening to the first 30 seconds of a song isn’t a good way of judging if it’s worthy buying.”

    I think iTunes’ 30 second preview is often a chunk of the song in the middle. Sometimes it’s in the beginning, but most of the time, it seems to be during an acoustically rich area of the song. Seems like the intent is to give you a good idea of what the song sounds like.

    I also think the subscription model is a crock, at least in its current state. $15/month is just too much. I mean, I pay $50/month for my cell phone, about the same for broadband. You have all these services that begin to add up. Do you REALLY need to pay another monthly tithe to the content owners?

    The subscription model is the equivalent of paying $15 a month just to walk into a library and borrow books. And you think, wow, I have access to all the books I could ever want to read and fool yourself into thinking your home library is the size of the Library of Congress. But at the end of the day, it’s all just an illusion.

    Sure, if the costs go way down, like maybe $15 a year, then the borrowing system is worth it, but the current price structure is designed to only line the pockets of the record companies. Even Yahoo’s ballyhooed $5 a month is too much to pay for the privilege of borrowing songs to listen to. And if the record companies have their way, the cost will only go up once they become successful at eliminating choice and force everyone to adopt subscriptions.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Lots of good points here – too many to reply to in the comments! But I’ll just add one thing: the way to think of subscription services isn’t as a replacement for your music collection, but as a kind of “smart radio” where you choose what to listen to. And, just as listening to CDs and listening to the radio are different kinds of musical experience, so are subscription services and outright purchase.

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