Online Music Services
A look at the future of retail music
Let's face it: the marketplace for downloadable digital files is the future of retail entertainment. Online music services already provide an alternative to your CD buying dollars. It's only a matter of time before it becomes the same for movies and video games. The era of the disc based media bought in retail shops could be drawing to a close just as a new format (HD DVD or Blu-Ray) of disc media comes into view.
For the time being, online music services represent a small piece of the digital entertainment market as the local CD store remains the most popular option of getting your music. But competition is already fierce. Yahoo Music started in the spring of 2005 and at a $7 a month fee, tearing the throat right out of Napster's $15 a month fee. The super-low fees from Yahoo music were short lived, however. On October 21st 2005 Yahoo declared their price increase to $12 a month, adding that the $7 dollar rate was only an introductory promotional offer.
Music industry insiders want you to believe that subscription based music services like Napster and Yahoo are the way of the future. Check our Digital Music Roundup for details about music services available online. The trouble is the idea of renting, not actually owning your music. To buy the subscription gives you access to a large catalogue of music you can listen to from your PC. DRM (Digital Rights Management) weighs the song files down with restrictions to prevent you from moving the music around to enjoy it on other devices. The most popular subscriber services today are Napster and Yahoo which both encode their music with Microsoft's PlaysForSure DRM.
PlaysForSure, DRM10 (also called Janus) is gaining momentum as the most secure DRM and enjoys the most compatibility in the industry. Compatibility with PlaysForSure means you can playback music encoded with the DRM such as the million song library from one of the subscriber services. All Windows based products are compatible with PlaysForSure. This includes Xbox 360 and Pocket PCs using Windows Mobile. But so are many MP3 players including Creative's Zen Micro, iRiver's line and Archos media players just to name a few. If you're willing to get on board the Microsoft DRM program and use a PlaysForSure compatible MP3 player, you can literally gain access to all the music you could ever want for a monthly fee. Taking it with you on a portable devices means your music library can be played back on nearly any sound system. This makes the digital music services potentially the most cost effective way for music lovers to play.
Even with the cool PlaysForSure digital audio players out there, will people accept this subscriber music service business paradigm? Not if the history of other business models is an indication. It seems people like to keep the media they buy and people sure don't like DRM encoding preventing them from moving their files around. We're not likely to see an end to pesky rights management issues, especially if downloadable/burnable media becomes the accepted form in which people buy music. It's something you'll have to make peace with or learn to remove. The removal of PlaysForSure is no easy task; executables reputed to do so aren't likely to be found searching Google.