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?


John Fredericks

What happened to the 14.95 a month to month option- the only option that seems available is the 3 month plan. Sorry but I am not giving Microsoft 44.95 of my money up front…


YeaH, i like the point about satelite radio. I was gonna buy sirius but knowing that you’re paying the same for what YOU want, i just might use zune pass.


I agree with what you say about not owning the music, but paying to be able to listen to it. I feel the same way.
However, if you get Tunebite ($20 and up) you can strip the DRM of the Zune Pass songs, therefore allowing you to own the Zune Pass songs!

Tax Man

“ The best of all worlds (if you can ignore the whole legality problem”

Not overlooking the legality is sort of the point, isn’t it? But I’m not here to judge. I’m just dropping by to comment that I was just reaching the end of my Urge free trial when KCT posted this bit, and I decided to go ahead and subscribe. Having a subscription really drives much different behavior than shopping at the iTunes store. I’m like a kid, a full cookie jar, and mom’s not home! This is great (as I listen to “The Big Chill Movie Soundtrack”…)

Green Giant

No one here uses The best of all worlds (if you can ignore the whole legality problem), DRM free music at MUCH higher bitrates than the providers. I mean 128kbps is pathetic, allofmp3 provides FLAC (lossless so same as CD) on much of the newer CDs and it still works out much cheaper than the actual CD. Their price model works on bandwith where 1mb is $0.02. Therefore if you’re happy with 128kbps you can get whole albums for $2. Other codecs are available (OGG, WMA, FLAC etc), all at varying bitrates so you can choose your quality. They’ve recently put up a new preview system that’s locked to their own media player (very simple, you just log in, doesn’t take over your pc, etc) through which you can listen to the FULL album at 128kbps. It’s encrypted to only work on their player and you have to be connected to the internet but NO other online store has this service (30 second, 24kbps is not a preview).

I’ve put in about 400 dollars over the last couple years and now have a huge library of music that’s MINE to KEEP and at a quality that I can actually listen to! You actually get bonus money the more you spend. It’s based on a running total of how much you’ve put in, over 50 dollars gets you 1 pecent extra on new top-ups, over $100 gets you 2 percent, and so on upto over $500 which gets you 20 percent extra (top up by 25 dollars and get 5 dollars extra which is enough for another two albums in low bitrate or another full album in lossless).

I highly recommend them. There was a bit of trouble working out how to pay since I’m in the UK and they don’t accept credit cards directly. I had to register with Click&Buy (a site run by British Telecom), then register with Xrost, which I can buy vouchers from using the Click&Buy system, which I can then use to top up Allofmp3. Sounds overly complicated, but once you get it up and running the first time its fast and easy to top up after that. The best part is only Click&Buy has my credit card details, who I can trust so there is no risk of fraud.

Mike Cane

>>>Just recently they added music by Goblin — a 70s Italian horror soundtrack band! I’ve been looking for their stuff for years.

Is the Internet fekkin great or what?


I’ve been using Yahoo Music for over a year…and I love it. Just got a T-mobile Dash, so now I can transfer subscription music to my phone and I love it even more.

What’s cool is that I’ve discovered so much new music. I’ll hear a musician on the radio, or from a friend, and more often then not, it’s available via Yahoo. The person who said that popular music isn’t available isn’t using Yahoo Music — haven’t had a problem there. And every month they’re adding more and more of the obscure stuff. Just recently they added music by Goblin — a 70s Italian horror soundtrack band! I’ve been looking for their stuff for years. Whoda thunk?

As for purchases, subscribers get about 20% off, so most CDs are $7.99 or less. If you find you buy a lot of CDs, you could subscribe and listen to tons of music, only buying the stuff you really like. Best of both worlds…

Tax Man

Since I don’t own a Zune, I have been trying Urge. This time of year, I spend a lot of time at the office with the computer. I have really enjoyed downloading lots of differentalbums from a wide variety of artists. Maybe it’s not a good solution for your long-term music collection, but for $10 I’m getting my money’s worth.

Brian E

I buy because none of the subscription services and few of the pay-to-download services have the music I want. In addition, I do notice a difference in sound quality in the car between a 128kbit AAC / WMV and a real CD, especially in the bass.

Also, the music I listen to comes in mixes, and mixes are difficult from the perspective of digital distribution. Either you supply tracks and your player inserts pauses between them to open up the next track, or you supply one file and you can’t skip forward / back by track.

When I have used iTunes, I’ve discovered I tend to pick from what they have, not what I really want, and end up disappointed more often than not. When I spend more per CD, I’m more discriminating and am often much happier. The loss of immediacy is actually good for me.

So, heck with digital distribution. I’ll stick with buying CDs.


I’ve had Napster+XM for over a year now and love it. I don’t understand why you would want to buy songs at .99 cents a piece – at that rate, buying the same amount I’ve downloaded, I’d be bankrupt by now!


What I’d really like is a smartphone with awesome battery life, 3G data and Flash support, aka portable Pandora player.


I really like the subscription model as well. I’m currently on Urge but I have tried out Yahoo, Napster, and Rhapsody before Urge came out.
There have been bumps and bruises especially with relicensing tracks, but it seems to be a lot less painful now.

white and nerdy

i use napster for 9.99 a month. i’m guessing zune has drm files that don’t allow you to transfer to cd’s. on napster i can transfer them to cd’s.

John in Norway

And, because I’ve copied them onto computer, I can listen to them any way I want.

John in Norway

I have over 300 albums and CDs that I’ve bought in the last 35 years that I still listen to on a regular basis. In fact the older ones are far better than anything I’ve heard that’s been released for a long while.

I won’t even begin to add up how much I would have paid in subscription fees over thirty five years! A lot more than these albums have cost me (especially as I usually wait until they’re reduced in price).

Tablet PC User

Subscription is the way to go! Add that to the fact that you can get 2 zunes and 3 pcs for only $14.99 a month (that’s 5 devices, plus streaming to the xbox 360 / media center extenders) and you can actually see that it works out to be about $3.00 per month per device for all-you-can-eat!

The only limiting factor for subscription music is your HD space!

@ greg

That’s often true…i’ve found that you may still find the song as a single or on another album…hence it is sometimes good to search by song and not only by album.

greg goode

the problem with subscription services is that often the most popular songs and bands are not included with the subscription.

William Ko

I let my Dad use his PC on my Zune account. He’s content with listening to his oldies on the computer. My wife and I use the other two for our Zunes. It’s totally worth it!

Tax Man

Hey Special K,
Can you share Zune monthly pass tuneson multiple computers?

Mike Cane

I don’t know why you’d be accused of being a fanboy for enjoying the sub model — is it just because iTunes doesn’t offer it?

Besides, wouldn’t you be able to convert any track you wanted to a purchase?

I don’t see the big deal. Aren’t people paying a lot more for satellite radio these days?

Tyler Arnold

I think I like subscription models better as well, I would just really like to see it for TV shows.

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