If Music Be… An All You Can Eat Buffet, Play On

A music download or streaming subscription can give you access to unlimited tunes, but you can never listen to them all and the minute you cancel your subscription they’re gone, so why would you bother?

I used to go into curry houses which offered all you can eat buffets determined to get better value than I’d have had ordering dishes from the menu.  You practically had to winch me out of my chair at the end; I would roll down the street to the nearest bus stop.  Now I prefer buffets even when I serve myself less food than I’d have had from a couple of dishes from the menu because I get to taste lots and eat exactly as much as I like of each dish.  If you try to quantify each transaction the outcome may seem to favour ordering from the menu, but I find a buffet a more enjoyable experience.

My post a couple of days ago about Spotify and iTunes focused on how Spotify has crept onto iTunes’ turf. But the discussion focussed on subscription versus purchasing music, and clarified my thoughts on this. I think Spotify has made it impossible for iTunes to resist branching into subscriptions, and I think the reason why people like subscriptions comes down to two things:

  1. Given that we like to experiment and listen to new music, if the cost of a subscription is less than what we spend on trying out new tracks that ultimately aren’t really “keepers” then a subscription represents good value.
  2. Having a subscription changes the rules.  We no longer have to weigh up whether we think a track is going to be worth buying to listen to it in full.  Subscription listening is about discover and casual listening, and we’ll still buy the tracks we really love.

The former argument is a simple quantifiable choice.  We can research the costs and determine the best value.  But it’s this second argument, about the quality of the experience, that I think will have persuaded Apple.  In their negotiations with mobile providers, they were, after all, insistent on having a special iPhone tariff offered with unlimited data, so iPhone users wouldn’t have to worry about whether they’d already downloaded too much.  They wanted the iPhone experience to be simple, fun, and free from boundaries.  Now they’re the dominant player in music, it’s the newcomers that are making the running, but if Apple doesn’t keep up, then they’ll be the one limiting the music experience.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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