Another roundup of the status of the legit online music services, this one from David Pogue of the NY Times:
- THE only thing record companies know for sure is that they want to kill off the insanely popular Sons of Napster: free music-sharing services like KaZaA, Gnutella and Morpheus. After all, the millions who use these services are in effect stealing music, depriving the five major labels of perfectly good money. But watching the record companies as they try to find a formula for a successful paid alternative is like watching five people play blindman’s bluff on stilts.
At least they’re generally crashing in the right direction. This is a busy time for improvements in the music-downloading services: America Online unveiled its MusicNet service last week; Pressplay has launched version 2.5 of its software; Rhapsody has unveiled a 49-cents-per-song special; and a new service called MusicNow, which offers a fresh approach to finding music, will make its debut later this month. With each development, these companies (and another MusicNet affiliate, RealOne MusicPass) are gradually lowering prices, filling the holes in their catalogs and loosening the restrictions on what you can do with the music you’ve bought.
Unfortunately, one thing that has not changed is the complexity of their price plans, which make choosing a cellphone plan look like child’s play. Each company offers several degrees of freedom for the music it sells, each priced differently.
….Most of these services offer pretty much the same 250,000 songs because they have all struck deals with the same major record companies. That’s certainly enough music to cover, say, an aerobics workout, but it is by no means every pop song every written. You’ll encounter big holes in the Billboard Top 100 list, for example.
Worse, some of the biggest performers, or their agents, refuse to play the online-music game. You won’t find much of anything from Madonna, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam or the Beatles, for example. (Pressplay does list a rendition of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” – played on panpipes. The Beatles’ agent sure has a funny sense of licensing priorities.)
….Clearly, most people would prefer an unlimited, à la carte system without hassles or limits. That’s the beauty of the plans devised by Rhapsody and MusicNow: $1 each for as many songs as you care to download, on top of the monthly $5 or $10 fee.
….No matter which service you try, you’ll almost always pay more for an album’s worth of music than you would by buying a CD in the store. Furthermore, none of these services exploit the virtues of the Web by including lyrics, tour dates and other news.
This about sums it up: why pay more for less? When the prices come down, convenience improves, and the interactive elements that the web makes possible are incorporated into the systems, THEN people will respond. (See Brad Hill’s analysis of AOL’s MusicNet here.)