Mary Jo Foley reports on her ZDnet blog that Microsoft (s msft) is seriously considering making Zune services, such as the subscription-based Zune Pass, available to other platforms — and that includes Apple’s (s aapl) very own Mac OS X.
It’s early days though, as Foley admits, “There’s no guarantee that the Redmondians will end up doing this — or timetable as to when this could happen — but it’s one of many strategies under active consideration.”
She adds, “I’ve been thinking that there might be a number of Apple iPod/iPhone users who might prefer a music subscription service over a pay-per-song one. (And one that’s better than Rhapsody.)”
Jose Pinero, Director of Communications for Microsoft’s TV, Video and Music Business told Foley that:
“…with the addition of the ability to stream music from a browser that is part of the new Zune 4.0 experience, Mac and Linux users already can stream music to their systems if they have a Zune Pass subscription. The streaming capability isn’t limited to Internet Explorer; it works with any browser.”
So does this mean we may see a Mac OS version of Microsoft Zune Player software appearing one day soon? The latest version, Zune 4.0, is described in a recent review by Paul Thurrott as “…vastly superior to its only real competition, Apple’s iTunes.” Ouch.
But as Pinero explained, Zune Pass wielding Mac owners can already use their web browser to listen to their music. What they can’t do on the Mac OS is purchase and manage their music. And that’s where a native version of the Zune software comes in.
This raises the sticky-sweet issue of the Subscription Model, and whether Apple ought to adopt it. It’s a model proven supremely successful by the likes of Rhapsody in the U.S. and Spotify in Europe. Let’s take a quick look at those services.
Spotify is, at its most basic level, completely free (through the unpredictable insertion of thankfully-occasional unskippable ads). An optional monthly fee of £9.99 (around USD$15) buys the user a Premium Account, banishing the ads and allowing the user to store streamed songs locally on their desktop computer (and now iPhone) for listening offline.
Rhapsody doesn’t offer a free service, and at $12.99 its cheapest membership level is relatively expensive when compared to Spotify. For two dollars more, Rhapsody users can store music for offline listening.
Zune Pass comes in at one price only — a hefty $14.99 — and offers both unlimited streamed music and a selection of 10 downloadable tracks each month that are yours to keep. That’s 120 songs per year. If you have a PC and a Zune player, you can store songs for offline playing.
Now consider how Apple could dominate this market. At its September 9 Press Event Steve Jobs said Apple manages over one hundred million active iTunes accounts with credit cards. That’s a staggeringly huge number, and even if we make some pretty conservative estimates, we still arrive at impressive results. Try this on for size; if Apple launched a monthly subscription service, priced at just $9.99 per month (cheaper than Zune Pass, Rhapsody and Spotify) and if only one percent of its credit-card-toting iTunes customers signed-up… that’s still almost a billion dollars in the bank, per year.
There’s more. While Rhapsody, Spotify and Zune Pass all cater to our (strictly) musical needs, a subscription service from Apple could potentially draw on the vast repository of content found throughout iTunes. So, to Music we can add TV shows, movies, maybe even custom-made “premium” podcasts from high profile celebrities and artists. And in a post-Tablet 2010, it’s conceivable subscription-based magazines, newspapers, journals and books could be added in to the mix.
Others might have been first to the Subscription Model party, but it’s easy to imagine the Apple pitch: “Today, Apple reinvents the Subscription model…” only, y’know, they’d say something way more funky than that.
I can’t believe I’m excited at the prospect of yet another reason to give Apple my money. But I do believe this is a service Apple would do well to consider. The Rhapsody’s and Spotify’s of this world prove there’s a growing, lucrative market demand for streaming content. That Microsoft is seriously considering expanding its Zune Pass service to other platforms tells me, beyond a shadow of doubt, there’s gold in them thar hills. I wonder if Apple has noticed?