I had almost forgotten that Microsoft was supposed to launch their iTunes Music Store killer this year, perhaps even their own player (but more likely to be co-launched with some hungry electronics conglomerate). What ever happened to that?
Now we know.
Reuters reports that Microsoft has stopped licensing talks with the big 4 music labels.
The most informative note in the article was this one:
According to several people briefed on the matter, the labels separately were seeking royalty payments of $6 to $8 per user, per month. People close to the labels say that is in line with what existing subscription-music services pay, the Journal reported.
We can assume that the $8/month price is when it is billed monthly and the $6/month price when it is billed annually.
Let’s look at the numbers. This means that Yahoo! is losing $1 per month per user. Virgin is at $0 and Napster is at +$2. That’s not including capital and bandwidth costs which must be quite sizable. We are, after all, talking about a subscription service.
It is clear that Yahoo! must be using music as a loss leader. For what? Anyone have a clue, because I can’t tell.
Napster is trying to make a profit, but we’ll see how that goes after they eat the cost of giving a free buffet to various colleges and nobody ends up using it when they leave.
When Virgin first launched, a colleague of mine who was involved in it and loves to bash me for being an Apple apologist2 asked me why I thought it would fail. My arguments were as follows:
- The average consumer doesn’t care (and shouldn’t have to care) about the legal intricacies of ownership vs. copyright. At the end of the day, when they purchase a music CD from the store, they feel like they own it. That’s a strong frame that isn’t going to be toppled easily.
- While defenders call it “all you can eat buffet” and detractors call it “renting”: most likely subscription services are a niche at best.
- If it turns out that subscriptions are lucrative, there is absolutely no barrier to entry for Apple to offer it at a later date.
I believe my friend’s comeback was, “I think you are wrong. That’s not how I think of my music.” I hope you can see why I was quietly amused by that retort.
I think it is also a tad bit ironic that that the RIAA uses the confounding between ownership and copyrights to equate “piracy” with “stealing” and make statements like: “The market should decide” when they’ve been given a perpetual monopoly of the product (a known market defect).
Live by the sword…
The subscription mentality
Caitlin actually explained the subscription issue more succinctly by saying simply: “We watch a movie only once, a few times if it is good. We have no problem listening to the same music over and over.”
That music is fundamentally different from movies is why the Walkman worked but the Watchman fails.
Forgetting that is why everyone clamors for a “video iPod” but nobody buys one. You know people are out of touch when they start bandying terms like “convergence” and predicting the cell phone will “kill the iPod” but can’t come up with a concrete solution for the former and can’t offer a practical reason for the latter. Oh, I can see the advantage of having my address book on my cell phone as the next guy, but explain to me the advantage of having a music player share the same battery as my lifeline?
The $6-$8/user/month royalty explains Apple’s position about music subscription: there is no gold in them there hills. Why would Apple give up the fiscally solvent “pay per download” model for the totally insolvent “subscription” model? How will even a Walmart-like efficiency in the supply chain solve this conundrum?
It is ironic that the people have intuited the same conclusion. You never hear the rumor sites speculating on an Apple music subscription service, even though they are going on hyperdrive about a Video iPod from Apple. Good for them.3
For some reason the eternal video iPod rumor always reminds me of CmdrTaco’s immortal words: “No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.”
He can explain it away like Microsoft apologists will explain away the 640K comment while ignoring the reality: You missed the point.
My colleague left to take a job at Virgin Digital. I wish him luck.
But I’m not holding my breath.