Well, I got the news the same way everyone else did yesterday… via the press release. Microsoft released some details about the new Zune player it is planning to produce. Read Cesar Menendez’s Zune Insider for the scoop. They confirmed a bunch of things Engadget and the other geek sites have been speculating about.
The most interesting aspect of it all to me is the wireless stuff. The short skinny is that you can share songs or entire playlists wirelessly with your friends who also have a Zune. They get to listen 3 times to whatever you share with them before it ‘times out’ and asks them to buy it too. That’s pretty darn cool! (Have you ever tried to copy/share a song from one player to another today?)
One potential hiccup I see with this though… If I like a new song a lot, I’m going to listen to it over and over again as I often do when I hear something new. The problem with that is, suppose I’m on the road or not able to get connected back to my computer to make the purchase for a while, then I’m going to bump up against that three song limit pretty quickly. It’s just one of those DRM roadbumps that is going to annoy folks and possibly interfere with their Zune experience. Okay, so maybe that isn’t as cool as it could be. Where I think this same feature could be VERY cool, depending on how it is implemented, is when it comes to subscription services.
First, a side tangent… I personally not a fan of DRM vis a vis “ownership”, where one ‘buys’ a song file that is protected via a DRM scheme. I think it has the potential to leave me locked into something that can’t be migrated/transferred to a new device/format, etc. I’d much rather go buy a new CD and rip it on to my player so I know I’ll be able to put it on whatever device I want. And that’s what I’ve done. Anyone who’s been to my home is often amazed at my CD library. It takes up an entire wall! With the amount of music I typically buy, this CD-buying model doesn’t scale well. (It scales perfectly well for the record companies, but not my bank account!)
Ironically, I’ve always thought that a subscription based service would be a great idea, even though DRM is what enables this type of service to be possible. Pay $10-15 bucks a month and listen to all of the music you want when you want it. Who wouldn’t want that?! Call it “renting” music, or call it whatever you want. To me, joining a subscription based service would be the equivalent of paying for radio that I can control. I get to listen to whatever I want, whenever I want! Who cares about owning the music? If you have a subscription, you essentially have the ability to program your music player like it’s your own personal radio station. That’s sweet!
Yet, subscription services (Napster, Yahoo! Unlimited, etc) haven’t really taken off. I’ve often wondered why. Is it a bad business model? Is it because the implementation isn’t good? (I’ve read reports of subscription services not working properly) Is it because the iPod/iTunes combo is so successful, that there are not enough people using non-iPod devices to make the subscription- based services successful? Or is it because people just don’t like the idea of “renting” music?
Note: My current MP3 player is an old Creative Zen Nomad. It doesn’t support “Plays for Sure”, so I can’t use it to join a subscription service. (I know there’s a firmware update for it, but I’ve been too lazy to try it.) Therefore, I haven’t had any personal experiences, good or bad, with using subscription services.
Back to the Zune… One of the stated goals for the Zune, and a great differentiator from the iPod, is building a social experience into it. While it seems the record industry considers “sharing” to be a dirty word of late, the reality is that music is all about sharing! People learn about new music from other folks who ‘share’ it with them. Whether it’s the DJ on the radio or their friend who says, “check out this cool new band!” That’s just the nature of music.
Here’s how I see subscriptions being a potential sweet spot for the Zune. If I have a subscription and you have a subscription, we should be able to share songs & playlists via the wireless feature without the hassle of the 3 “play” timeout. How cool is that?! (Note, I say ‘should’ be able to do this, because I don’t know if that will actually be the case with the Zune.) Now, as I discover new music, I can share entire playlists and pass them on to my friends when we see each other. They can share with their friends, etc, etc. In the online world, maybe the Zune market place will let people post their playlists online for them to be shared with other subscription users? Talk about the potential there for social networking! That’s something I’d be excited about. Perhaps wireless sharing could be the thing that finally makes subscription services take off! We’ll have to see if this will become reality or not depending on how Zune implements this feature.