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And Here Come Another Round Of Yawn-Inducing Music Subscription Services

from the too-little-control dept

Well here we go again. There have been numerous attempts at music subscription services, and none have really done all that well. While some people do love their Rhapsody or Napster accounts -- neither has been a runaway success, and both struggle to get much attention these days. Yet, so many entrepreneurs believe it's a holy grail. So, here we go again. With plenty of people waiting for Spotify to enter the US market, the NY Times reports on two other new entrants; one from Mog -- who seems to have blasted press releases to everyone, with the general reaction being a big yawn and one from the founders of Kazaa and Skype, called Rdio. Neither sounds particularly compelling.

The problem with all of these subscription services is that they inherently need to have limits. You have to keep paying, you can't really share music with others, you may be able to take some of your music on the go, but it's usually a convoluted process. And that's a problem. Because people understand how mp3s work -- and that's without restrictions. Trying to get people to pay for a music experience with restrictions, that offers less than what they know can be done, is a recipe for failure. It's time to stop thinking of trying to "sell music" and start realizing how you can use music to sell something better.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Robin, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 3:47am

    Fighting Innovation

    Over at Wired:

    http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/10/mogs-5-per-month-music-service-highlights-spotify-o bstacles/

    they have an article on the same press release, but with an interesting quote from the founder of MOG:

    "...Hyman says that is not possible due to the high cost of licensing on-demand music for the United States.

    “We were exploring that model, but ultimately, that model doesn’t work,” Hyman told Wired.com. “That’s not limited to MOG — that’s for every company… none of these labels are doing it at a price point where you can offset it with ad dollars. It’s very simple economics.”"


    i.o.w., he is positing that all attempts at innovation are being actively fought by the major record labels.

    Granted, he may be positioning himself in a "don't blame me if the service sucks" sorta place, but let us not discount his experience over the past twelve months in dealing with the innovation fighting labels.

     

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  2.  
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    Kevin (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 4:27am

    Revamped Zune Pass

    I agree about the limitations and that is why I have always just purchased mine. But Zune just recently updated their Zune Pass to where in addition to getting as much music you want that will die when you quit paying, you can also download somewhere around 15 MP3's a month that are unprotected you can do whatever with. That makes it interesting to me since the cost of the service is about the same as the cost of buying that many MP3's a month anyway. I think I am going to finally take the plunge with this service.

     

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  3.  
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    Jasper Teal (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 4:31am

    Wrong wrong wrong

    In your knee-jerk opposition to anyone trying to sell something these days, you ignore the benefit of music subscription services. True, they do have limits, in that you can't freely copy the music files wherever you want. So what's the advantage? Virtually unlimited catalog.

    Once I tried Rhapsody many years ago, I was sold. I could listen to anything I wanted, from (almost) any popular music ever made, without having to decide whether to buy it. $10 or $15 a month for unlimited? Vastly cheaper than $1/track, or even $0.25/track, if music vendors would ever lower their prices. Many of these subscription services have mobile copying or connection capabilities, which mostly solves the portability problem as well.

    I haven't looked at the new services you mentioned, perhaps they do suck. What's needed is a service that combines unlimited subscription with an addictive community, discovery, and metadata service, such as Last.fm. If Last.fm ever release their long-promised subscription service, I'd gladly pay $20/month for it.

    Subscription still does work for many things, such as online gaming.

     

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  4.  
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    Griff (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 4:49am

    Watermarks

    If they would all just say
    - here's an MP3, uniquely watermarked to you at purchase time
    - take it where you like, copy it, play it on any device but DON'T upload it to the web please.
    - you agree if we ever find YOUR copy of the MP3 on the web or in a file sharing situation, you'll be fined.
    - your friends agree if we ever find your copy of the MP3 in their possession , you and they will be fined (so don't email copies to your mates) though we're unlikely to cath you for this and we don't care that much as this is small beer compared with downloading
    - in return for this we'll make it a sensible price ($3-5 for an Album)

    For most people
    - this would not in any way limit their legit enjoyment
    - even if they wished to share it they would not have the wherewithall to remove / modify watermarks

    Then they could chase down most piracy with an almost automated spider.

    For real added value, you'll be able to log on to your account and stream anything you already own even when you find yourself away from your home hard drive. Say on your net connected smartphone.


    The key point here is, they could catch the guilty without inconveniencing the innocent, which almost none of their efforts so far have done.

    Subscription is a no hoper simply because people want to keep music they like and when you stop paying it has to go away with a subscription model.

     

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  5.  
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    Chunky Vomit, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 5:08am

    As somebody who spends more than 20 hours a week on musical performances, piece arrangement, and even recording, I love the idea that I can tap almost any song at any time through Rhapsody. In the end, it is much cheaper for me than if I were to buy all of this music.

     

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  6.  
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    SkypeIsHype, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 5:16am

    Skype is Hype

    www.SKYPEISHYPE.COM We are the team of inventors behind US Patent 7,089,319 issued in 2006 titled "Method and system for instantaneous on-demand delivery of multimedia content over a communication network with aid of content capturing component, delivery-on-demand client and dynamically mapped resource locator server". We introduce "Skype-killer" application, with new innovative "Internet broadcasting" functionality, as well as unmatched web browser centric cross-platform, cross-device reach. We will be able to compete on VoIP signal quality, innovative "Orbing" (P2P live and pre-recorded video broadcasts by individuals), as well as lower cost base. Skype is facing multiple litigations and is about to either be shut down permamently, or enter very expensive settlement arrangements. Plus, Skype is not is control or ownership of Global Index technology, the node forming augmentation of delivery system which they push to each user computer. We are actively pursuing venture capital. Please visit www.skypeishype.com for more detail.

     

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  7.  
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    Alasdair Fox, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 5:22am

    nice idea, but..

    Nice idea, Griff, but I can see a few potential issues without even thinking about it.
    How long do you think it would be before pirates had cracked the watermark system? I'd give it a week at best.
    Also, if your files were stolen (for example if you put them on your government USB stick, which have an unnatural tendency to wander), would you be responsible for the subsequent file sharing, or would it still have to be proven that YOU shared the files for you to be prosecuted?

     

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    thublihnk (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 5:24am

    I have found pretty much no fault with my Rhapsody To Go sub. I can get my tracks to my MP3 player faster than I ever could with iTunes, or even torrenting the albums. It's handy, user friendly, and as far as sharing goes, sure it goes about as far as telling my friends what album to listen to or just showing them the track on my stereo in my car or whatever, but when has there been a music service that lets you do more than that, legally?

     

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    Just a Thought, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 5:28am

    Re: Skype is Hype

    You should actively pursue some classes in remedial English, or at least high a proofreader.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 5:37am

    "You have to keep paying, you can't really share music with others,"

    Paying doesn't grant you the right to share in any situation, why would it be different here? Sounds like you are comparing these services to the way you get your music, off torrent sites. Sort of not a really valid comparison, is it?

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 5:48am

    Re: Wrong wrong wrong

    Virtually unlimited catalog.... from (almost) any popular music ever made.

    Eh? It's ALMOST unlimited since it has ALMOST all POPULAR music ever made? So it has mostly popular music and not even all of that? And that qualifies as unlimited? Virtually?

    I have yet to find any of these services useful, not even spotify, since I cannot find the bands I like on them. But you nailed it there. If you like POPULAR music (ie. "chart" stuff) then it's probably, virtually useful, perhaps.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 6:08am

    These models are failing to account for something fundamental

    which is that music gains in popularity because people share it with each other.

    I worked in a record store for a number of years, and the labels would heavily, heavily promote this or that thing for a month or so. Hell, they probably thought that it was that hustling that made music popular. Truth is, though, that we could just as easily make some obscure indie release sell just as well by simply liking it, playing it on the store system, and being able to tell customers about it.

    But before I even got that job, I was doing the same thing, as were my friends, by letting each other borrow disks (pre-Internet) or by looking to older siblings who had moved on to college and had their friends there play cool stuff for them, and then passing it along to us when they came home to visit. Now that we have the Internet, it's even easier to share stuff.

    Meanwhile the labels insist on exerting control over what becomes popular and when, so as to create arbitrary dependency for artist and listener alike. But that's never been the way it really worked. Prior to being able to share content on the Internet, the labels were just insulated from the way things were really done.

    Point is, these services are just a non-physical manifestation of the "we'll tell you what you're going to like" paradigm. And then on top of that they want to perpetually bill people for it, and take it away once the service is cancelled, no matter how much people have paid in up to that point (while preventing them from putting what they've already acquired on physical storage media to make sure they can keep it). How could this possibly be a good idea?

     

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  13.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 6:12am

    Re:

    It's a valid comparison because any pay service will have to compete with file sharing. If the pay service douse not give enough value, then it's not going to be able survive.

    I'll tell you this, I'm not going to go out and get a new MP3 player every time a new DRM comes out. I already have four MP3 players, two are iPods, one's a Rio, and one's a Sandisk, and between all four, they support two forms of DRM. These new services will not have DRM supported by any of those, so why should I switch?

     

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  14.  
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    Not That Chris (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 6:33am

    Re: Skype is Hype

    I'm kind of new around here, but I would myself be really leery about posting anything like "I hold patent 12345," especially when, without reading the patent, you appear to have described a webcam, which according to the almighty Wikipedia, has been around since 1991.

    But that's just me...

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 6:36am

    One of the issues I have with most of these services is the crap quality they encode their mp3's at. You want me to pay you for 128bit quality? If you want me to pay give me the choice of quality that I want to download at.

    Until someone comes up with a more compelling offer I will continue to use the free streaming from Slacker, Pandora, etc., the "free" XM/Sirius that comes with DirecTV, and my very large existing music library. I find these options cover most of my music needs and I purchase very little music.

    I just have not seen an offering that is worth adding another monthly bill.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 6:51am

    Re: These models are failing to account for something fundamental

    So what you are saying is that shiny plastic discs and tapes are actually a better format that digital delivery?

     

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    WammerJammer (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 7:24am

    And Here Come Another Round Of Yawn-Inducing Music Subscription Services

    I would gladly pay a small monthly fee to be able to just download and who cares who it belongs to. If you don't want it to be downloaded then don't let it. We are programmers here and it would be very simple to place a value on movies and music that won't break the bank and then let the ISP collect the money with their regular monthly fees and that's the end of the bullshit. What a waste of time and energy this whole argument is.
    After the RIAA and the MPAA and all the other AA's are happy and shut up then maybe the indies can collect their royalties due them. How many indie bands and movies get played or downloaded without any payment to the creators? Then everyone's work would be able to be charged for. All an artist would have to do is notify the ISP's for their cut of the money. It could work but the Rappers Greed won't let it. They took over the business by being Gangsters and totally polluted the music industry with pablum. You know the same old beat, that boring, same old beat. Maybe we need to shake up the business. Where are my Royalties and can I copyright this post? Ridiculous!!!

     

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  18.  
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    scarr (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 7:27am

    Re: Wrong wrong wrong

    Take a quick look at your "virtually unlimited" service and please tell me how complete these bands' catalogues are: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd ... if those aren't too obscure.

    Maybe something more modern would be appropriate. Are The Faint, Ladytron and The Flesh on there? Heck, how about the large back catalogues of Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie?

    If your list doesn't come to around 100 studio-released albums, it's limited.

     

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  19.  
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    Avatar28 (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 7:40am

    Re: Re: Skype is Hype

    I don't have one myself, not having a Zune HD. But I have heard lots of good stuff about the Zune Pass. If you keep your 15 tracks a month (I thought it was only 10 though) then it's not really costing you all that much extra for it. One key difference with it from other music services, though, is that you can access it directly from your Zune and can download music and stream audio anywhere you can find a wi-fi connection.

    Not That Chris: Obviously you are new. Otherwise you'd see story after story about a patent troll getting a patent on something obvious or with clear prior art and starting to sue the heck out of people. Believe me, something as simple as prior art won't even slow these guys down. You might as well try to stop a rampaging tank by parking a car in front of it. Hell, companies that MADE the prior art have been sued...for the prior art!

     

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  20.  
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    Cheese McBeese, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 7:43am

    Subscription vs. Free

    The bulk of the debate here seems to be focused on subscription vs. purchase. That isn't the real issue, is it? Isn't the real issue subscription versus theft?

    Today it is dead easy to get a DRM-free copy of just about any song you can think of via P2P file sharing. These songs will play on any MP3 player and can be managed by iTunes, WMP, etc. There are only two drawbacks: 1) sometimes it takes a little bit of time and effort to find the quality level you prefer, and 2) it is stealing.

    The issue I have (so far) with the subscription services is that their catalogues are full of holes, which means it's only an unpredictable partial solution to what I need. In order to get my business, a subscription service needs to meet these requirements:

    1. The service must 'own' the job of acquiring the music I want. If I want a song that is not in the catalog, the service needs to go get it and make it available within a certain period of time. Otherwise, I have to do that myself, in which case the value of the service goes way down. The labels have a role to play here too, because they have to agree to make a lot more non-mainstream back-catalog available.

    2. The service needs to provide a caching capability for my playlists so I can listen when off the air. Otherwise, I need another solution and that is a lot of extra hassle.

    3. The service needs to seamlessly integrate with my existing library of content. I listen (increasingly) to a lot of stuff that is indie and will not be available from the labels. If I can't create playlists that integrate music from my library with the library from the service, that is a major fail.

    I'm ready to use a streaming service. The issue is, the services aren't ready to meet my needs. So I will continue to purchase what is available and scour other sources for material that is not available from the major online retailers.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 8:18am

    www.what.cd

    for all music.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 8:28am

    Re: Watermarks

    I think you're overlooking how quickly some clever hackers would come up with a quick and easy way to strip watermarks from the mp3's, making that whole process pointless.

    And the record companies know it would happen too.

    They would probably end up actually losing money, as the money spent to develop this solution wouldn't offset the "increased" sales you think would happen.

     

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  23.  
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    Chris, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 8:42am

    Re: Re: Re: Skype is Hype

    I have a Zune pass, with an old Zune, not the HD, and it's phenomenal. I've found TONS of new music using their channels and custom playlists, and the new Smart DJ service is the best of its kind that I've used.

    And when I do find new music that I like, I get to keep the forever (up to 10 tracks per month.)

    The Zune Pass is the first music service I've used that really works.

     

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  24.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 8:44am

    Re: Watermarks

    I'll just sign up with a cash card ..... end of them tracking back to me... the problem with anything the labels can implement for DRM or watermaking is that it can be defeated in short order.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 9:03am

    No need to be a genius to understand what's going on. Take someone with lots of money, anyone; then remove their safe means of income and tell them they have to rely on testing something new to have any sort of revenue and said revenue is not guaranteed at all. Would you accept? No way, not even you Mike.

    I agree that it's time for change and record labels are keeping innovation back, but can you blame them? No new business model has been successfully and thoroughly tested (as opposed to your claims Mike -- NIN and Radiohead were just experiments, not new business models).

    So what Mike keeps saying is: Drop your high salary, go on welfare, and hope your new unproven business model works to eat each month.

    Seriously? Who would expect this to work? So... new challenge for you Mike: actually PROVE to them that new business models can work (not using third parties like you always do) and only then might they change and you get some recognition instead of claiming you can save the music industry and doing nothing.

     

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  26.  
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    Kristin, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 9:04am

    Re: Re: Wrong wrong wrong

    I actually went and counted the albums for those bands you listed and I think you be surprised by what Zune pass has to offer.

    The beatles of course aren't on there..led zeppelin isn't available to download but you can buy free with your credits.

    I definitely would not say that its limited

    Check it out before you make comments.

     

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  27.  
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    azuravian (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 10:05am

    Virtually Unlimited

    @: Everyone who says "Band X isn't on Rhapsody so therefore it is not unlimited.

    Suppose you went to an "All-you-can-eat" buffet. When you get up to the buffet counter you notice they don't have spaghetti, and that's what you wanted. Does that make them NOT "All-you-can-eat". That's ridiculous. The unlimited services are unlimited in how much of their stuff you can download with your paid subscription.

     

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  28.  
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    Steve, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 10:17am

    Missing the point

    Everyone keeps talking about the value of 'owning' their music versus paying for subscription. It's all a matter of financing, really. Assume you buy X albums per year and Y turn out to be duds that you wished you hadn't bought. Add to that the albums you buy for your kids that you really don't want to own because they're not going to listen to them after a year anyways. The benefits of subscription quickly add up - with a service like Zune I can get access to a library quickly, 'buy' music that I can load on non-zune devices, and try different types of music without having to worry about 'buying' an album that I think is going to potentially be a dud. Yes - the music industry is changing. But it's changing from a consumer perspective too. Buying that massive music collection just doesn't make sense anymore. That's my 2 cents...

     

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  29.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 10:34am

    Re:

    Paying doesn't grant you the right to share in any situation, why would it be different here?

    Because people are sharing anyway. Ignoring what the market is actually doing is a path to failure.

    Sounds like you are comparing these services to the way you get your music, off torrent sites. Sort of not a really valid comparison, is it?

    Actually, I buy CDs (old fashioned, I know...). I've never used a file sharing program in my life. Not sure why you would assume otherwise.

     

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  30.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 10:36am

    Re:

    I agree that it's time for change and record labels are keeping innovation back, but can you blame them? No new business model has been successfully and thoroughly tested (as opposed to your claims Mike -- NIN and Radiohead were just experiments, not new business models).

    Ok. Keep believing that. Meanwhile, folks smarter than you are successfully earning a nice income using these smarter business models. Luckily, the world doesn't need your approval. They're already doing what they need to do.

    So what Mike keeps saying is: Drop your high salary, go on welfare, and hope your new unproven business model works to eat each month.

    Heh. Funny stuff. Of course, that's not even close to what I've said, but if you can't figure it out, that's really your problem.

    The artists I've been talking to and working with are doing quite well with these new models.

    Seriously? Who would expect this to work? So... new challenge for you Mike: actually PROVE to them that new business models can work (not using third parties like you always do) and only then might they change and you get some recognition instead of claiming you can save the music industry and doing nothing.

    Already have. Perhaps you missed it.

     

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  31.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 10:37am

    Re: Missing the point

    "Assume you buy X albums per year and Y turn out to be duds that you wished you hadn't bought. Add to that the albums you buy for your kids that you really don't want to own because they're not going to listen to them after a year anyways. The benefits of subscription quickly add up..."

    Yeah, and if you put your feet in the ice chest and your head in the oven, you'd feel fine, on average.

    Frakin' accountants...

     

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  32.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 11:57am

    Re:

    "Take someone with lots of money, anyone; then remove their safe means of income and tell them they have to rely on testing something new to have any sort of revenue and said revenue is not guaranteed at all. Would you accept? No way, not even you Mike."

    If you offer them no other options, then yes they would take it. If not then they're idiots. You give two choices, go hungry or have a potential income stream. Sounds like an easy answer to me.

    "Drop your high salary, go on welfare, and hope your new unproven business model works to eat each month."

    You do realize that Mike's high salary comes from a company built on one of these "unproven business models"? It's how Techdirt works. Give away free articles and free ability to post and sell the Insight Community. Apparently it works.

    Oh, and D&D online works on one of these "unproven business models" and they seem to be doing fine. And god only knows how many others are doing the same.

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 12:43pm

    Re: Virtually Unlimited

    Yeah, nice try, except the term used was "unlimited catalog," not "unlimited downloads."

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 12:50pm

    Re: Re:

    Then I guess you failed Mike, otherwise that perfect so-called business model of yours would be everywhere by now.

     

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  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 12:51pm

    Re: Re:

    We didn't expect you to say publicly you were downloading torrents Mike, however it's doubtful that you never used a file sharing program... you just can't say it; you know.. you have an image to preserve or else you'd be the new Lily Allen.

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 1:24pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    You have a point. Mike probably uses torrents and lies about it, just like you'll probably say now that you don't actually like to seduce small children.

     

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  37.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 1:35pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    We didn't expect you to say publicly you were downloading torrents Mike, however it's doubtful that you never used a file sharing program... you just can't say it; you know..

    Nope. I've never used file sharing programs. Don't know what you want me to say. I haven't. I buy CDs. I recently bought some downloads as well. I've downloaded music that was legally offered off of musician's websites, but I do not use file sharing offerings. I've never used The Pirate Bay or anything like it.

    you have an image to preserve or else you'd be the new Lily Allen.

    Huh? How so? What "image" would I be preserving? Her problem was trashing a certain action while doing it herself. What have I done that's like that?

     

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  38.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 1:37pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Then I guess you failed Mike, otherwise that perfect so-called business model of yours would be everywhere by now.

    Heh. Yeah, because change happens overnight.

    You really aren't that clueless, are you? No wonder you post anonymously. No human being could be that stupid.

    You know, at least you used to post reasonable trollish posts that had a hint of logic to them. Lately, you just post whatever moronic thing comes to mind.

     

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  39.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 3:46pm

    Re: Re: These models are failing to account for something fundamental

    So what you are saying is that shiny plastic discs and tapes are actually a better format that digital delivery?

    Well, not exactly. What I'm saying is that physical media delivery of recorded content is better at serving a specific social function of recorded music than a subscription, SOA, streamed and locked down method for digital delivery of the same thing.

    Digital delivery over networks is better and allows the social aspect of music to include more people, but only if the data can be transmitted as freely as, say, it is when you record a mix cd and hand it/mail it to your friends to check out. This is because in a purely digital format 1) you don't have the extra step of transferring it to another device and 2) you don't have to get a physical object from one place to another in order to share the recordings.

    The problem isn't that it's digital. The problem is that it's too locked down with arbitrary restrictions on what the listener can do, that the purchases of the data aren't permanent, and that it doesn't reside in a physical or logical location that is completely controlled by the purchaser. In that sense, it can't possibly compete with other methods that are every bit as digital but don't have those issues. It's not even about paying vs not paying. It's about being able to use the content socially, however you want to. If a paid service isn't going to offer that (they say they "can't," but they mean they won't), then it isn't going to work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    icon
    slander (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 6:35pm

    Re: Skype is Hype

    You wouldn't happen to be based in Nigeria, would you?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Krusty, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 7:59pm

    Re: Re: Skype is Hype

    Did you mean Hire? snicker

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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