What's A Fair Price For A Music Subscription Service?

Microsoft this week announced its Zune Pass service for Australia, adding to a growing list of options that offer all-you-can-listen-to music services for a monthly fee. How does its $11.99 a month price tag compare with its rivals, and would you cough up for that kind of service?

Zune Pass will launch on November 16, with a claimed base of around 11 million tracks. Playback options include Windows PCs, Windows 7 phones and Xbox. If you want to save a little, an annual subscription costs $119.90.

Zune Pass offers essentially the same deal as other rival services: access to whatever music you like, but only while the subscription is active. The pricing is also remarkably similar to its rivals.

Sony’s Music Unlimited service (aka Qriocity) runs on the PS3, Sony Ericsson handsets, Bravia TVs and Windows PCs, and costs $12.99 a month for a claimed six million tracks. Samsung Music Hub works on its smart TVs, Galaxy Series phones and tablets and PCs, with an unspecified “millions of tracks”. Pricing is $9.99 a month for either smartphone or tablets access (with discounted six month bundles at $54.99 or 12 months at $99.99, or $14.99 for access on up to four Samsung products plus your PC (six months $79.99, 12 months $149.99).

There’s no guarantee of business success with this model; Nokia’s Comes With Music, for instance, got canned earlier this year. Part of the problem is that despite the low price tag, changing the consumer idea of purchasing music permanently is difficult. I’ve personally found it hard enough to adjust to the idea of only buying music digitally, and still grab CDs for most stuff I want.

People younger than me for whom watching music on YouTube is the standard state of affairs won’t have that mindset, but might well wonder why they should pay for something that’s streamed via a web site for nothing.

And there are other issues. Total number of tracks is a messy metric for comparing these services; if the kind of artists you enjoy are missing, then an extra few million tracks doesn’t make much difference. The device lock-in factor is also annoying; ideally, my music service wouldn’t force me to buy from one manufacturer.

I don’t see myself paying for any of these services any time soon, but then again my personal music collection is already large enough to keep me entertained for quite a few decades. Are you tempted by any of them? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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