Friday, February 05, 2010

A different look at music subscriptions

Online music subscription services continue to be developed and announced with great fanfare. And yet, acceptance has been indifferent at best. Why? I got an insight when the latest issue of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact arrived the other day.

Granted, there's not a one-to-one correspondence between magazine and music subscriptions, but I think there are some interesting contrasts.

Analog presents new science fiction short stories and serialized novels, so it's a little different then general interest or news magazines -- which makes it work better (I think) for my analogy.

Most music subscription services operate this way: you pay a monthly subscription fee, and you get access to all the music available through the service. You can download the newest songs, or classic hits, or anything in between.

With my subscription to Analog, I get the latest fiction in monthly installments, and I can freely access anything in the previous issues I've received.

If you discontinue your subscription to the music service, you no longer have access to their library. And any music you've downloaded and put on your MP3 player or computer is disabled. You can't play any of it.

If I discontinue my subscription to Analog, I'll no longer receive the latest science fiction, but I can reread anything in the back issues I've saved (and goes back quite a few years at this point).

If I had been told that the back issues of Analog would self-destruct if I canceled my subscription, or they would be repossessed, I would be more than a little upset. It would be kind of like holding my collection hostage. "Keep paying us money, or your science fiction library goes up in flames."

It's obvious why the labels like the music subscription model. They get to control the music, and if the money stops coming in... they still have all the music and you don't.

But is it what the customer wants? I like revisiting past issues of Analog -- even during the time in graduate school when I couldn't afford a subscription. I don't keep every copy of every magazine that comes into our house -- but what goes is my decision, not the publisher's.

And that's kind of the way I like it.

- Ralph

(Yes, some services let you burn your music to CDs if your subscription's paid up. That would be like me being allowed to photocopy any story in Analog I wanted to keep. Nice option, but impractical on a large scale)

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