Category Archives: Digital Music

Five things music subscription services can do to reach the tipping point

I seem to be in the minority when it comes to supporting the subscription music model. Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, Napster, and anybody else out there offering a subscription music service – here are a few things that you can do to get more people to accept this model…

1) Make it easy for me to export my library and meta data and transfer my library from one service to another. If you’ve ever used a music subscription service such as Rhapsody, you know that you end up spending a lot of time building up your library of preferred albums, artists, tracks, etc. You start with everything that you already own, then move on to the stuff that you sort of liked but never bothered to buy. And then you start adding all of the new music that you hear about from week to week. You invest even more time in building up playlists. Over time you end up investing many hours building up your music meta data and this is the single biggest reason why you wouldn’t switch from one music service to another (or stop paying a subscription altogether). If I decide to switch from one service to another – e.g. switch from Rhapsody to Yahoo Music – I don’t want to start all over again from scratch. I think this is the #1 reason why people don’t sign on with a subscription music service. Why pay a monthly fee for music if you are going to lose a record of all of that music when you decide to stop paying for that music subscription? If you let me export my music library and meta data (playlists, favorite tracks, etc.), that would soften the blow. That record of your musical preferences and listening habits is almost as important as the music itself (just ask Anil Dash). I would even be willing to pay you a reasonable fee if you allowed me to transfer my music catalog from one subscription music service to another. Will this result in more churn? Probably. But think of all of the new customers that you will attract if you offer this type of music portability.

2) Make it easier to build up my music library. Allow me to upload my iTunes XML library file. Whatever you can match should be automatically added to my library. Or let me plug in my ID and tell me how many albums, artists, tracks, etc. you were able to match. You should allow me to do this as part of the sign-up process. If you were only able to match 30% of my library then I probably won’t sign on. If I see that your catalog is a close match to my catalog (e.g. over 80%) then I’ll probably sign on with you.

3) Make it easier for me to share my music. One of the greatest pleasures of music is sharing it with others. Loaning a CD to someone. Burning a mix CD for someone. Back in the day, making a mix tape for someone. If I’m paying for a subscription music service I want to be able to do the same type of thing. Let me post a 15-song playlist on my blog. Let me email a link to a playlist to 10 people. Let me pay you an extra $1 per month to increase my sharing “quota”. Who knows, maybe some of the people that I’m sharing my music with will become your next customer.

4) Integrate with other services. Take YottaMusic’s lead and let me scrobble my music listening history to services such as Sign a deal with Pandora so that I can listen to a track on Pandora and add that track to my Rhapsody library. I might even be willing to pay a premium for these types of integrations.

5) Make my music subscription music available everywhere – on my home stereo, on my mobile device, in the car, etc. And don’t charge me a premium for receiving my music through these other delivery channels. If I’m already paying a monthly fee for receiving a subscription music service on my computer, there is very little chance that I’ll pay an additional monthly fee to receive this music on a mobile device. Rhapsody is going in the right direction with this (it’s available on Sonos and it will soon be available on TiVo) but they need to stop charging extra for accessing the service on mobile devices.

Fred Wilson suggests that music subscriptions services allow roaming between services.

Why I use a music-subscription service

Fred Wilson at A VC recently wrote a post commenting on David Kirkpatrick’s recent column Looking beyond the iPhone, where he makes the case that the future of digital music is Rhapsody, not iTunes. Most of the comments were in favor of the iTunes model. I’m with Fred and David on this. This is the comment that I left on Fred’s blog…

I’m one of those people who used to say I would never use a subscription music service. When I bought my Sonos system a year and a half ago, I tried out a free 30-day trial of Rhapsody. I was hooked and continue to use Rhapsody to this day. Here’s why I like it…

– every Tuesday when new music is released, I can find 95% of it on Rhapsody and add it to my Rhapsody library

– if I discover a new artist, album, track, etc. on Pandora,, on a music blog, on Hype Machine, on the radio, etc. I can go to Rhapsody and find it (again, 95% of the time i can find it). Using a subscription music service doesn’t mean you don’t listen to & discover new music through other channels.

– I have gone through the effort of adding most of the music that I own (mostly ripped CD’s and a couple hundred tracks that I bought on iTunes when it first came out) and added it to my Rhapsody catalog. This allows me to access my music from the “cloud” wherever I am. This wouldn’t be possible on an iPod because my digital music collection is several hundred GB. Yes, I know that there are other ways of doing this through Orb and Streampad but that limits my collection to what I already own.

– I rarely deal with the crappy Rhapsody software. I listen to Rhapsody on Sonos (which has a great user interface) and on YottaMusic, which accesses the Rhapsody catalog through an API. In a few months I will be able to access my subscription music wirelessly through devices such as Sansa Connect. With free Wi-Fi coming soon to my area (San Francisco) that means I can access Rhapsody 24×7 wirelessly wherever I am in San Francisco. By the way, YottaMusic gives you an option to scrobble your music to

– if you want to own your digital music, don’t forget that you need to store it somewhere and back it up on a regular basis. Costs for this have come down but it will still run you a few hundred bucks to set up a system to store 100 GB of music and have it backed up somewhere. And you’ll still have a chance of losing it all if your house is hit with a fire, a flood, etc. With subscription-based music services this is a non-issue.

I don’t look at subscription-based music services as a replacement for purchasing music through iTunes or buying CD’s. I see it as a way of supplementing my music collection and expanding my access to it.

For the record, I have absolutely no connection to Rhapsody, YottaMusic, Sonos, or SanDisk (maker of Sansa).

iTunes 2 billion songs purchased on a graph

Last February, I posted a graph showing the growth of the iTunes music store. Back then the big news was that Apple had sold their one billionth song. Lost in the shuffle of Steve Jobs’ huge announcements at MacWorld yesterday was the news that Apple recently sold their 2 billionth song on iTunes. That’s another billion songs in less than a year. So much for the recent speculation that iTunes sales are slowing. Here’s the updated graph…


Songs Purchased (millions)



graph created using NCES Create a Graph