Trandall6’s Blog

Why we need subscription music

Posted on: January 10, 2010


I started writing this blog for a university class. I am now on holidays but I miss all the writing I got to do during the semester so I have decided to write about things I am interested in here. So I guess I am a blogger now. I am currently into the idea of subscription music.

I recently read an article that introduced me to the idea of subscription music on a scale beyond that of the Zune, Napster, etc. which I believe could save the record industry. As will be explained below this is an industry that I believe is worth saving.

The article, which can be accessed here: is concerned with Rick Rubin’s attempts as co-head of Columbia records to “save the record business”. He proposes a model in which “You would subscribe to music”, “You’d pay, say, $19.95 a month, and the music will come anywhere you’d like. In this new world, there will be a virtual library that will be accessible from your car, from your cellphone, from your computer, from your television. Anywhere. The iPod will be obsolete, but there would be a Walkman-like device you could plug into speakers at home. You’ll say, ‘Today I want to listen to … Simon and Garfunkel,’ and there they are.”

This may seem kind of out there, for example it would be difficult to get record companies to cooperate to create a library of all their material, even if there are only 4 major ones left. It would also prove difficult to make such a model economically profitable, and it is dependent on the existence of certain technologies such as broadband infrastructure. However major labels are quickly running out of other options.

It is widely acknowledged that the record business is dying. 2009 was the eighth year in a row that album sales declined, this time by 12.5%. Legally downloaded singles, while accounting for 40% of music sales are not closing this gap. In the US alone 5000 record company employees have been laid off since 2000 and 2700 record stores have closed since 2003. This is obviously caused by the proliferation of technology such as peer 2 peer file sharing that makes it easy to create high quality copies of music. Furthermore studies that can be accessed here show that young people primarily obtain music by stealing it, via means such as p2p or making friends a copy. They however, do not consider this stealing.

Co-founder of Intel Andy Grove has explained companies (or in this case an entire industry) face “strategic inflection points” at various periods. This is where the climate drastically changes giving the company the option of starting in a new direction, for initially less profits before business picks up again. Or the business could simply continue in the previous direction, for increasingly less profits. Subscription music could be a new direction.

This is because subscription music represents both a profitable alternative and deterrent from music piracy. This is primarily due to reasons of convenience. When downloading music peer 2 peer users could download viruses, with music subscription this no longer is an issue. Much more importantly it would allow users to quickly and easily access music they want. Obscure music is often hard to find in peer 2 peer networks, or it may not be there at all. This music could easily be obtained from a large subscription catalogue. The catalogue could be infinitely large with material quickly accessible, rather than the long process required to illegally download. Steve Jobs has stated that the success of iTunes is due to the fact it is easy to quickly find music on it. It’s success must be the result of convenience as the user is getting no physical product for their money and the same files usually exist on file sharing networks. However rather than getting maybe two albums for $19.95 on iTunes, with subscription music the user could access thousands, even millions of albums for that price.

There are many misguided people (usually pushing a far left agenda) that argue music piracy is a good thing as it somehow librates us from having to pay money for culture. To these groups I suggest that they acknowledge that reality, whether you like it or not is we live in a capitalist society. In such a society people get paid money for how they contribute to it. For example if a builder constructs a house they should be paid for that contribution to society. It simply is unfair to assume those that serve society in the information sector such as writers, musicians or computer programmers should do so for free in their spare time while working days at McDonalds or something to financially support themselves.

Furthermore as we have seen over the 20th century or so having a mass entertainment industry can be culturally beneficial. For example artists such as the Beatles have given entire generations common ground. Types of reconciliation has occurred between conflicting demographics in society through the shared appreciation of artists such as Michael Jackson. People of different geographic or cultural backgrounds can interact easier with shared social capital obtained from music.

Material that receives mass distribution also tends to be of greater quality. Long Tail music services such as, a site where anyone get upload their songs have been unsuccessful. This is because the material posted mostly is of low quality (sorry!). Music however has to be of high quality to justify the effort of exposing large audiences to it.

Subscription music could also help people discover music. For example with the current model of purchasing recordings previously a person would have to commit money towards a record to hear it. This commitment could keep say, a fifteen year old kid from checking out Bob Dylan, having become curious after reading of his legendary status. However with sub-music he/she could access the music and potentially enrich their life.

I understand I have touched on a lot of different areas here, this was intended to explain, in a concise fashion why subscription music becoming the dominant way people access music would be a positive thing. In later posts I will continue to argue this as well as offering suggestions for the form a mass subscription model could take.

I obtained much of the information in this post from these sources:


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  • trandall6: Thanks alot for that comment. I had never even considered the potental loss of data which could occur under such a model. Like you said, differnet per
  • indie69: Excellent part 3. You make some great points and bring up ideas that I hadn't thought of before. Different perspectives. The one thing I'd point o
  • indie69: Thanks for the comment on my blog. You've challenged some of my ideas, too. But really I just agree with you on the subscription model with the only r


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