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

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.

Lifehacker’s weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.


  • Was using MusicStation for a while on my VAIO. $11.99 a month for a good selection of tracks and a monthly allowance of most played tracks that you can “keep forever”. It was a good service and I discovered a fair few new artists thanks to the suggestion tab. The one thing that was frustrating me was the device lock on the tracks that didn’t fall into the “keep forever” list.
    Then I started using TuneIn on my Android phone and tablet and the selection and quality is just as good so I cancelled my subscription with MusicStation.

    • Thanks for reminding me about TuneIn, I already had an account for PC and listen to Chinese based radio stations with it. Now I can do the same on my phone!! 🙂 Awesome!

  • I’d use a music subscription service, if:

    * I could use it on my mobile
    * I had enough data (and reliable access) to stream the music. 1gb for a music lover isn’t enough
    * I could find the music I actually like (My music taste can be obscure)

    And after all of that, why would I when I could simply tune into Shoutcast and find a playlist I like? If you tune into the right station, it’s legal as the companies pay their licensing fees and such.

    • You can use it on your mobile (WP7)

      you do have enough data (i am with Telstra, 20GB a month on my Mozart!!! :D) – that is more then enough when you are coming to and from work. once at work connect to wifi and it is free! 🙂

      11 million tracks for Zune….there is something for you

      also it is the cheapest option out there 🙂

      • You get 20gb a month on your phone? I just did a quick look on the Telstra page and the highest I could find was 3gb a month and even that wasn’t cheap.

  • the biggest issue i have with this and almost all ‘paid’ options is the locking, i have an android tablet, boxee media player, a PC, laptop and a work laptop (which i can’t install apps on). If i am paying for something i want to use it on any of these devices not just the 2 that might work with any given option …

  • In my own personal case, I have no interest in a subscription based music service for a number of reasons.

    – Primarily at this point in my life, I don’t even purchase more than $10 or more of new music each month. Paying more for something I can only use while I continue to pay for it seems counterintuitive for my needs.
    – Most of my music tastes relate to music released prior to 2005. Having access to new release music isn’t a big selling point to me.
    – CDs still provide the peak of mainstream music media. Nothing since (except DVD-Audio) has bettered it on a widespread commercial level. By buying CD’s I not only have a permanent physical copy, with artwork sleeve, but I can also convert it to any format I want.
    – Subscription music services are too fragmented. Qriocity only plays on Sony devices, Samsung Music Hub works on Samsung devices etc. While I own a Bravia TV, and use Qriocity for some movies; I’m not that brand loyal that I’m going to make my next phone a Sony Ericcson just so I can stream audio.

  • Currently using Qriocity and have been since it was released earlier this year. I absolutely love it. I use it on work PC, Home Mac, Bravia TV and PS3.

    I’ll admit the interface is a little clunky but it’s great to be able to listen to what I want when I want. Wouldn’t mind an iOS app though.

  • Sounds like a good deal if you’re into *popular* music.
    I like *weird* music. These things never have enough *weird* music on them.
    Maybe you like weird music too!

  • Last.fm $3 per month or $36 per annum (USD).

    You don’t get to choose individual tracks, but I’ve found it’s fingerprinting quite good. If I fire up the recommended music, I get quite a good playlist.

    There are also quite easy ways to stream-rip.

    Main downside is the android client only streams in the USA/Canada/Germany. Cursed international licensing issues.

  • Music Unlimited also works with most non-Sony Android handsets. I love the idea of streaming media services but the one thing I really want is the ability to locally cache a small playlist on my phone so I can listen on the go without being dependant on a data connection (which samsung does do but I don’t have a galaxy). Other than that, the value proposition is great. As much music as I want, for less than the cost of a CD each month… even if you don’t like half the songs there’s still a few million tracks to choose from.

  • DRM limited music sucks. Just because I have a Windows/Sony/Samsung/Nokia device today does not mean I will have one tomorrow. The price they are asking is, even in Samsung’s case, too much.

    Compare this with the price that Quickflix will be offering full movie streaming (14.95/mth) and it’s clear to see that these prices are excessive.

    I personally prefer Chinese/Taiwanese songs these days, except for the occasional track here and there. So I definitely wouldn’t get my money’s worth even if it was a $4.95/mth service but at least that would be a more reasonable price.

  • IM going to see what it comes with…

    Zune’s Smart DJ tends to be pretty good and with the Zune Pass allows it to just play on and on and on…

    FOund some good bands while i was using the trial Zune Pass so i will prob sign up for Zune Pass, see how it goes and then consider my options.

    Personally i would like to see ‘bundle’ discounts for Gold members etc…

  • Whilst I’m in my current job that has blocked most free music streaming websites on my computer, and where anything like this would also get blocked, no. I need music on my iPhone and I’m not going to pay for the data to stream on that.

  • JB Hi-Fi is launching ‘JB Hi-Fi Now’ by the end of the year, and from what I’ve heard (and from memory) the standard subscription was sub $10, and the premium which allows you to have the music on your phone, ipod etc was sub $15. Not only is my memory bad, but JB could change their pricing before it launches.

  • i pay $5.00 a month for a top quality VPN service which lets me choose from 20 different servers around the world. Choose a US one and you have Pandora…one of the best music services ever. (i also get BBC iplayer, hulu and netflix)

  • Spotify is hands down the best, just pay either $5 or $10 a month for it, (signup for an account using a vpn, proxy or otherwise, then you won’t need it after that)

  • Broadly speaking, there are really just two types of people.

    1. Those like me who love music, have expensive hifi systems and buy Japanese pressings for $50+ a pop.

    2. Those who download everything (legal and otherwise).

    Yes, some people will subscribe to these music services to get a taste of bands they haven’t heard before but they will then purchase CD’s of those bands they like and quit the subscripton service. My own tastes are obscure and most of the bands I listen too aren’t on these services.

    I give it less than a year before the plug is pulled.

  • The best compromise I have seen for this is how the Zune pass works in the US. $15/month for access to all of their streaming music, but it also includes 10 downloads/month of songs that you get to keep. Gives you the option to listen to lots of music, and decide what you actually want to keep.

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