Universal Music Thinking Subscription... But In A Way That Will Never Succeed

from the ah,-back-to-this-again dept

Last week, there was a lot of buzz about the NY Times Magazine profile of Columbia Records boss Rick Rubin. Among the interesting tidbits was the idea that Rubin and many other executives in the industry have finally started to come around to the idea of a universal "subscription" service -- which many people had suggested years ago (and which the recording industry insisted would never work). Of course, the devil is always in the details -- and a big question is whether or not record labels will set this up like the existing "subscription" services like Napster and Rhapsody, or will actually recognize the value of going DRM free and making it more of a licensing program, rather than a limited subscription service. Nearly as big a question is whether or not all of the major players would ever agree to terms that would make such a system work.

Surprisingly, it sounds like Universal Music is trying to take the lead in pushing out just such a subscription service, but the details are lacking. What details there are don't sound particularly promising. Basically, the program would require (yes, require) ISPs and mobile service providers to buy into the program, forcing all customers to opt-in. Effectively, this would be about ISPs and mobile service providers raising the prices on all customers, and offering them access to music in exchange. As you might imagine, that proposal has been something of a non-starter with most ISPs approached by Universal. It's also not clear if other labels would be involved, or if this would be a Universal-only sort of deal (which would also doom it to failure). In the meantime, given Universal Music's recent attempts to squeeze money from everyone they can, whether or not it makes sense, you can pretty much guarantee that the terms on any such proposal won't be too agreeable to anyone... other than Universal Music.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    identicon
    Jon, Sep 12th, 2007 @ 9:42pm

    Oxymoron

    Universal Music + Thinking?

    No way.

     

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    Jon, Sep 12th, 2007 @ 11:23pm

    A subscription service is really the only time when having DRM actually makes sense. You can use the music as long as you are paying and when you stop paying, the music dies. That's exactly how it should work.

     

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      Paul, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 2:30am

      Re: by Jon

      "and when you stop paying, the music dies". NO WAY! If you pay for it you keep it.

      I have a box of old vinyl LPs that I rarely play but when I do I TRULY enjoy them. I paid for some of them over 30 years ago - they are still mine.

      Admittedly, most of today's music is not worth keeping but the principal remains - pay for it = keep it.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 8:52am

        Re: Re: by Jon

        That's so 20. The media companies are so past that... they want you to _rent_ stuff, not own it. Otherwise, how can they continue to make money without doing work?

         

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      YouKnowNothing, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 3:40am

      Re:

      That's funny...when I buy a subscription to a magazine, I get to keep all the magazines. When the subscription runs out, then I don't get any *new* magazines, but the old ones are all mine forever.

      Funny how that works, eh?

       

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    claire rand, Sep 12th, 2007 @ 11:37pm

    i'd actually go for this, however it would have to be an option, and not too much per month either, maybe a couple of ukp..

    oh and i run a mac so playing with windows only drm is a no-no, make the files available in a drm format fine, as long as it works & plays.

    oh and the range of music would have to be good as well, i'd have no issues with 'new' tracks not being on the service for a few weeks but after that if they start limiting whats there then it gets dropped.

    i think that will be the killer.. the lack of ability to opt-in, and then the lack of a way to opt-out if its naff, well cept dropping the isp.. yeah i can see the isp's liking that

     

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    Nicolas Jondet, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 2:13am

    Actually Universal Music is already testing such a scheme in France . Helpfully for Universal the French ISP is also part of the Vivendi conglomerate. This might explain why the deal was reached.

     

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    PaulT, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 2:31am

    Who gets the money?

    I'm OK with a universal subscription fee in theory, but I can never accept it in practice. If all ISPs are required to opt-in, there's no way of opting out, meaning that anyone with an internet service would have to pay a mandatory tax to private companies - this should never be allowed.

    Just as concerning to me is that even if there's a fair system in place? e.g. who gets my money. I would certainly not want to use my 'allowance' under such a scheme to buy from independant artists only to have my money go to Britney. How would the money be split between the artists fairly?

     

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      mike allen, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 3:02am

      Re: Who gets the money?

      Answer not the artists thats for sure. I can see plenty wrong with this if you want the service fine but it would have cover all labels independent as well as the big four. and all music that is giving choice. Also what of those people who DO NOT want to get music from the web they would be forced to pay for a service they wont use It has to be opt in or out as the customer wishes.

       

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    John, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 3:58am

    NO!

    This is so wrong, I refuse to have any of my money go into Universal's pockets. None of the artists I like are on that label, most of their bands are crap cookie-cutter artists made for the masses...

     

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    Mark R, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 6:19am

    Subscription is good

    I've been subscribing to Rhapsody for about 6 years now and I've always considered it a steal. I don't understand why people are so unwilling to pay real money for music. People will pay $100+ a month for an assortment of crappy TV content but when it comes to access to the most powerful art form every invented they turn into Scrooge McDuck.

    My personal threshold is $50 a month if I could have access to any song anywhere and have it be playable on any device wirelessly (go to a friends house and play through their stereo without wires, for example). If I were the recording industry I'd be looking to buy a tech start-up that would make more devices wirelessly interoperable and require a subscription for that interoperability.

     

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    Chris, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 6:19am

    My Thoughts

    That's funny...when I buy a subscription to a magazine, I get to keep all the magazines. When the subscription runs out, then I don't get any *new* magazines, but the old ones are all mine forever. But when you subscribe to a magazine they don't send you all back copies of that magazine since it was started. When you subscribe to this service you will be given access to all music (at leasts that is how it should be) "and when you stop paying, the music dies". NO WAY! If you pay for it you keep it. I agree that while you are a subscriber ALL the music availalbe online is available to you to listen to. Once you stop being a subscriber then you are no longer allowed to listen to that music, even if you saved a copy on your local PC. However if you really want a song you should have the choice to purchase a DRM free copy that you can listen to even if you cancel you subscription. I also feel that this would be a killer ONLY if it was a opt-in deal and not forced upon everyone and it needs to go for all the labels. As for the artist, that will be a tricky part but some kind of tracking as to which songs have been downloaded so they can pay the popular artists a higher percent than the unpopular artists. With this approace though you have the problem of artists inflating their own music downloads to get a bigger peice of the pie.

     

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      Mark R, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 6:27am

      Re: My Thoughts

      You just described Rhapsody exactly.

      Good musical acts rarely sign with big labels until the end of their careers. I remember Issac Brock of Modest Mouse saying that they reason he went to a big label wasn't for money, he made substantially less per album sold, but that they were able to front him 200,000K for recording costs and he wanted to do some crazy layering. Something UP wasn't able to do.

      In an semi-related note, UP is the only label I can think of not on Rhapsody.

       

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    Haywood, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 6:40am

    Lets hope ISPs don't go for this

    I'll go back to free Dial-up. I have no reason to download music, I seldom listen to the radio even. I have all the music I care about, and they don't seem to be making any more. This looks like a back door approach to; you are all criminals and are downloading music so we will charge you all. Kind of like the blank CD fee.

     

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    Elvis Presley, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 7:04am

    Joke ...

    "ALL" ISP providers ... yeah right. A joke. These guys are really dumb. I'd make sure to find an ISP provider that didn't opt in and there would be many since there are a lot of people out there who don't want to subscribe to their crappy music.

     

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    Sanguine Dream, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 7:32am

    This is just like...

    that blank media fee that is Canada (I think its Canada). ISP customers would be paying an additional fee for a service they may or may not use.

    I'm sorry but this is just another of the big labels death throes. They are reaching for any straw of hope in order to sustain their carnivorous business methods.

     

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    me, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 8:01am

    F#@k em, I personally will never buy music again no matter what their business model is.

     

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    Overcast, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 8:52am

    "and when you stop paying, the music dies". NO WAY! If you pay for it you keep it.

    Yep, I'm not going to pay to 'lease' music for a while, lol.

     

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    Christ on a cracker!!!, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 9:28am

    I just cannot believe that this should be all that difficult. I realize paradigm shifts are often hard, and getting all of these companies to agree on certain aspects of the plan will prove challenging. But to figure out what customers want, the financial threshold that customers are willing to pay and how to deliver it should be pretty easy. Shouldn't the fact that Apple (a computer hardware company) is now the number 3 music retailer in the world say something to these people. The retail end of the music industry is being taken over by a company whose core competency is NOT (at least until now) in selling or distributing music.....

     

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    Christ on a cracker!!!, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 9:30am

    I just cannot believe that this should be all that difficult. I realize paradigm shifts are often hard (of course they don't often take 10 years), and getting all of these companies to agree on certain aspects of the plan will prove challenging. But to figure out what customers want, the financial threshold that customers are willing to pay and how to deliver it should be pretty easy. Shouldn't the fact that Apple (a computer hardware company) is now the number 3 music retailer in the world say something to these people. The retail end of the music industry is being taken over by a company whose core competency is NOT (at least until now) in selling or distributing music.....

     

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      Christ on a cracker, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 9:33am

      Re:

      Sorry for the double post...I am just so damn fired up!

       

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      Sean, Sep 15th, 2007 @ 7:58am

      Re:

      The trouble with using Apple as an example is that they really aren't making much money on selling music. For some reason my memory is 15-20 cents of each track goes back to them. I think the reason subscriptions are popular with the labels is that its guaranteed money each month. I expect it's something like Netflix, they bank on most people not consuming enough during the month to actually make up for how much it costs for storage, transmission, etc. I expect I would be a pretty model customer for them; I don't usually get more than a couple of new songs in any given month, so after bingeing the first month or two I would level out to almost no cost for the label/service in question. For that reason though, I don't see paying monthly for lots of stuff I don't feel like I want.

       

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    sign in china, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 1:38am

    DRM free and making it more of a licensing program, rather than a limited subscription service. Nearly as big a question is whether or not all of the major players would ever agree to terms that would make such a system work

     

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