Three months of music: $44.97 or $529.47?

Zune_podcast_2I’ve owned my Zune for just about 3 months now and right after the free Zune Pass trial, I decided to subscribe. I have my account billed every three months, which comes to $44.97 for the unlimited music download subscription service; sorry, no discount here. We’ve joked on the podcast that I’m trying to download the entire Zune library, but actually, I’ve only downloaded 53 albums to my library. Technically, I’ve downloaded more as I’ve browsed some new artists, but I currently have a scant 53 albums. I suspect the average music listener would consume more albums, but that’s just a guess.

Before I go further, I want to avoid the "Zune fanboy" comments because my focus is really on an all-you-can-eat subscription vs. a traditional buy a license to listen per album model. You can replace "Zune Pass" with any music subscription service here if you like. However, the fact is that I listen to music on these 53 albums and it cost me $44.97; had I paid $9.99 an album at the store for a DVD on sale or through the iTunes Music store, those albums would have cost me $529.47.

There are pros and cons to each model, of course. Folks in the "purchase" camp have a valid argument by stating: "we own the right to listen to what we bought forever while your music expires the moment you stop subscribing". That’s a fair argument worth merit and something you, as a digital music consumer, need to consider.

Do you want to be "locked in" to a monthly fee to listen to music? My personal answer is yes, I don’t mind simply because I get the freedom and choice of the entire catalog. I’m willing to sacrifice my long term "ownership" of some artist’s albums in order to gain virtually unlimited music choice. Some days I’ll listen to my favorite genre, Country music, all day…in fact, I’ll go days and not change genres. On a moment’s notice however, I can kick back with some New Age or Classical while I get some quality work done. The choice is mine.

Many consumers jumped into this model long before I did and honestly, I wasn’t sure that it was for me. Then I started thinking about it. We’ve actually had content subscription models in place for a long time. Back in the early 1980’s, I remember our local cable company touting its service. We all thought it was insane to pay $16.55 a month for "basic cable" when we were getting television free for years. Oh, but with that monthly fee came a few more channels and all of a sudden, the snow and ghosting that plagued our set for years suddenly disappeared. Plus we got MTV, but that’s another story.

There’s also the argument of "your monetary comparison isn’t quite right: you’ll be paying that $44.97 every three months"; again, a solid argument. Here’s the way I look at it though. If I never bought another album and just spent the $529.47, I could listen to the 53 albums virtually forever. How long would it take for my subscription fees to equal that? It would take about 11 quarterly billing cycles or nearly three years of paying the subscription. In those three years, I could have downloaded several thousands of artists and albums under the subscription model. What could I do with the music I purchased? I could listen to those same 53 albums….for three years. Sounds painful to me because my tastes and choices vary depending on my mood or the day.

The point here being: music subscription services are very compelling in terms of price and choice. Pick any one you want; doesn’t have to be the Zune Pass (which doesn’t require a Zune player, BTW): you’ve got Rhapsody, Yahoo! Music Unlimited, Napster and plenty of others to choose from, many of which offer a free trial. Again, it’s a personal choice on the music model: pay to "own" or pay to "rent". For me, the decision was simple: I’d rather rent as much as I can instead of paying for a limited collection. You might choose the opposite, but it’s worth trying both models to see which suits you best. Often, you can try a subscription model for a week or two at no charge. Why not stop at the "all you can eat buffet" and see if you like the taste?


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