August 2, 2002 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Pressplay to start offering unlimited downloads of their online music database. While it still only (leagally) allows users to burn 120 songs to disc, there are rumors of allowing permanent d/l of songs, too. Is this a sign of the music industry finally starting to do what they should have done from the start, which was embrace the medium and capitalize on its benefits rather than try to stifle it? Regardless of whether or not pressplay suceeds with this tactic, is there anything legal online music services can do to compete with free p2p networks? Discuss.
posted by Hackworth (25 comments total)
is there anything legal online music services can do to compete with free p2p networks?

Of course. If a subscription model makes downloading easy, fast and flexible - if it can provide $20/month in value - then it's worth paying for, even with existing free services.

There's also the other element - that the p2p services' quality is going to degrade heavily in the next few years, as the majors get their act together. They won't go away, but in many areas they may well start to suck.

a much more interesting experiment than pressplay's (as it's still clinging to silly DRM), is universal's decision to license a huge chunk of it's catalogue to emusic. we'll see if that reaps any dividends for the beleaguered company.
posted by Marquis at 9:53 AM on August 2, 2002

Sounds like a step in the right direction. If they start offering unlimited true MP3 downloads, it's great, if not, they still have some thinking to do.
In either case, I'm not a big fan of the big labels, and will probably just stick to Emusic. Oh, on preview, it seems I'll get Universal's stuff there as well from now on.
posted by Triplanetary at 9:57 AM on August 2, 2002

One of the main problems music companies face is the ubiquity of the mp3 format. It's convenient, easy to manage, easy to control size/quality, and almost all media players (software and hardware) support it.

The problem is that mp3 is purely an encoding mechanism, it contains no Digital Rights Management features, this benefits users, but is a headache for content producers.

I will purchase songs online when:
>>I can download a .mp3 file
>>I can select singles to download
>>I can pay per song, not a subscription fee

Until then I will continue to buy CDs and rip them.
posted by patrickje at 10:13 AM on August 2, 2002

is there anything legal online music services can do to compete with free p2p networks?

Yes, of course.
  1. Give me access to all label's full catalog of music (including the stuff they don't sell anymore) from one convenient service with solid download speeds.
  2. Eliminate DRM. The consumers aren't buying that stuff guys, and you aren't going to protect it anyway.
  3. Give me a single song price of under a dollar or a cd price that works out to $.50/song.
  4. Implement a monthly subscription price of $19.95/month that entitles me to download 50 songs before I start paying the $1.00 or $.50 route so that you have ensured revenue streams, and the consumer as additional value.
That is my dream service. That is what I will buy.
posted by willnot at 10:18 AM on August 2, 2002

I'd happily sign up for something that offered a rich, full library of unrestricted music. Gnutella and its brethren are no match for what Napster and Audiogalaxy used to be in their primes. I don't listen to too much new music, but the ability to hop online at a whim and grab a song that just popped into my head is worth $20 or $30 a month.

It's going to take some high-profile failures from RIAA-backed music networks before someone gets the bright idea to try unlimited MP3/OGG downloads, I think.

If (and that's a big if) it were to happen soon enough, I think it would be successful enough to stave off a similarly poor implementation by television/movie interests once average available consumer bandwidth allows for the download of huge amounts of video without too much of an investment of time. Wow, was that one sentence?
posted by phong3d at 10:22 AM on August 2, 2002

Subscription services can compete with p2p in two major areas:
  1. Quality of connection
    • p2p networks are usually slow and connections drop all the time
  2. Quality/integrity of file
    • no more mislabelled songs
    • guaranteed good-quality files, no weird pops or skips or missing end bits
I think a lot of people would be willing to pay a reasonable price for that. Not the l33t h4x0rz, mind you, but normal people.
posted by Fabulon7 at 10:23 AM on August 2, 2002

From what you all say, Universal's certainly gone in the right direction. Sounds like if emusic had access to complete, cross-major catalogues - and encoded things at higher than the current 128kbps - you'd pay for their service, at up to twice their currently subscription fee!

I'm pretty confident someone will do this in the next, uh, six years.
posted by Marquis at 10:28 AM on August 2, 2002

With the "portable" burning, you can burn to a CD, then rip the CD to MP3 format (presumably). However, At the annual cost, with 120 portable downloads, that still equals to like 15 dollars for a CD worth of music. Shouldn't the CD be cheaper since I am not getting a jewel case, CD, or liner notes with it?

But if you want music and don't like leaving the house, I think its getting a lot closer than they were.
posted by benjh at 10:36 AM on August 2, 2002

Emusic is very interesting. As I read through Universal's press releases, they're testing this to see whether it generates sales or canabalizes sales.

Now here's the thing. I've I buy my music over the web, then I feel like I've bought it. I'm not going to go out and buy the physical media too. I know some people might, but I'm concerned they aren't looking at this right, and may back away from it.
posted by willnot at 10:37 AM on August 2, 2002

Under one section of the new plan, subscribers will be able to download or stream an unlimited number of songs to their computer for a single annual fee of $179.40, the equivalent of today's $14.95 monthly fee, according to a customer service representative. ... Along with the unlimited downloads and streams, consumers will be able to burn 120 songs a year to CDs after paying the annual fee. Packages that allow more songs to be burned will be available for individual purchase.

I wonder how they plan to enforce that 120 song limit. If it really is unlimited downloads of mp3s, I assume that the limit is just in the license, in which case they probably expect it to be broken. On the other hand, what kind of technical limit might be possible to implement?

If this is sufficiently convenient, and the music catalog is sufficiently broad, I'd hop on board.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:37 AM on August 2, 2002

I've got no problem paying for this service, but are the artists getting paid yet?
posted by monkeymike at 10:39 AM on August 2, 2002

I wonder how they plan to enforce that 120 song limit.

Pressplay doesn't use mp3s (though emusic does) - Microsoft is one of its major partners, and it employs rights-protected Windows Media files.
posted by Marquis at 10:41 AM on August 2, 2002

If it's not in mp3, it's going to be damn near impossible to get me interested in any for-pay service. I'd much rather just buy a CD from a discount online shop and rip it myself.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:48 AM on August 2, 2002

Maybe they should do something like Columbia House and give you a tonne of MP3s for nearly nothing, with the contractual promise that you will buy a certain amount of stuff in the future.

I wonder if they could make that work???
posted by Fabulon7 at 10:50 AM on August 2, 2002

Pressplay doesn't use mp3s (though emusic does) - Microsoft is one of its major partners, and it employs rights-protected Windows Media files.

Ahhh, I see. Bastards. I take back my previously contemplated participation. Although, if new media players are WMA and mp3 compatible, I guess I could just burn a disc full of those files, rather than burning a true audio disc.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:12 AM on August 2, 2002

The problem I see with subscription services is that they are branded by the label... Does this mean that I have to pay a subscription to each big record company? It would be perfect if I could subscribe to "music" in general.
posted by y10k at 11:27 AM on August 2, 2002

y10k - they're working on it, understandably.'s Rhapsody service has licensed (parts of) the catalogues of all five majors. There's nothing out there yet, however, that's really a killer app.

(Also, forgive my garrulity - I've read a great deal on the topic, and love discussing it [my friends are already sick of the subject, so I'm usually reduced to muttering in a corner on my own].)
posted by Marquis at 11:51 AM on August 2, 2002

From emusic's faq:
Sign up for a minimum of 3 months -- we'll bill you $14.99 each month

Sign up for a minimum of 12 months -- we'll bill you $9.99 each month
That's unlimited downloads of every single mp3 they have.

They have a lot of stuff that's hard to find, or out of print. I love them. And while hte mp3s are only 128k - whatever encoder they're using does a really good job and they sound better than your typical 128k mp3.
posted by jaded at 12:11 PM on August 2, 2002

Variety is going to be the problem. I can either pay $60 a month to subscribe to 3 different services and get more or less most of the music I want. Or I can log in to WinMX, download what I want, and spend $60 on buying CDs I decide I like.

As to PressPlay, judging by the WMA files I've heard the quality isn't at yet at the level of Lame-encoded MP3s. Not to mention my objections to anyone controlling what I can do with music I've bought.
posted by zygoticmynci at 12:37 PM on August 2, 2002

Indeed, high quality mp3s of great diversity and ease of purchase is the key. Back in the day when emusic wasn't subscription based, I loved being able to buy mp3s individuallly for .99 cents, and probably still would if I could. If I remember correctly, I spent about $35 altogether there before they went subscription. Since then, I've spent nothing on mp3s, and not because I'm not willing to either. If they could just find a way to sell me what I want, then we could all be happy.

It's really not a question of consumer demand anymore, it's all about holding their hand and leading them into the new music market. I just wish they would listen to the consumers already.
posted by Hackworth at 12:41 PM on August 2, 2002

Anyone had any experience with Musicnet? I believe they provide the backend for Real's subscription service. I've never been willing to sign up for any service that doesn't provide permanent downloads, something musicnet lacks now, but supposedly will be adding in 2.0...
posted by nomisxid at 1:43 PM on August 2, 2002

I thought I'd give the free trial of PressPlay a try - however, my first two attempts at searching were a failure: The new Country Crows album isn't available, and there is only one track by Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Before I start paying for a service like this, I'm going to need more music - including material from labels other than the big five.
posted by stevengarrity at 7:10 PM on August 2, 2002

Country Crows search didn't work? Maybe you should try Counting Crows.
posted by hitsman at 7:21 PM on August 2, 2002

Oops. Not only did I mis-type Counting Crows - I misspelled Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Now that I've done some spell checking: they still don't have the newest Counting Crows album, but they do indeed have some Stevie Ray Vaughan.

I guess they need Google spell checking ;-)
posted by stevengarrity at 7:48 PM on August 2, 2002

I wrote an article a few months ago detailing a possible solution to online music distribution - essentially, a system where the artist gets compensated, and users can still (potentially) get their music for free.

Unfortunately, the music industry still isn't ready to give up on their ingrained ideas just yet...but hopefully they will in time. From the looks of things, they'll have to.
posted by Darryl at 8:39 PM on August 2, 2002

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