iTunes, subscriptions, and getting it right

Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, chatted up the press following the company’s announcement of its impressive FY07 Q2 financial results and, in regard to subscriptions coming to the iTunes Store, had this to say to Reuters:

“Never say never, but customers don’t seem to be interested in [subscriptions]. The subscription model has failed so far.”

If I were to dial back the Time Machine I could imagine Jobs mouthing similar statements along these lines:

“Never say never, but customers don’t seem to be interested in [purchasing downloadable video]. Downloadable TV shows and movies have failed so far.”


“Never say never, but customers don’t seem to be interested in [portable music players]. Portable MP3 players have failed so far.”

Given the success of the iPod and the iTunes Store the ready response to Jobs’ subscription statement is:

Perhaps that’s because a subscription model won’t really take off until Apple implements it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I like subscription music services. I’ve had subscriptions from both Yahoo! Music and Rhapsody. I love the freedom to pull up just about any album I care to listen to and play it while I hunker at the computer. I also like being able to explore new music without being hobbled by a 30-second preview. If a pal and I are iChatting about something cool she’s recently discovered, more often than not I can access it in Rhapsody and weigh in on its merits as it plays in the background. And thanks to Rogue Amoeba’s $25 Airfoil, I can stream that music to the two AirPort Express base stations in my house, filling my home with Rhapsody’s radio station or the playlists I’ve created.

The one major fly in the ointment is that these subscription services don’t work with my iPod. Sure, I can play them on my SanDisk Sansa e280R but doing so requires that I wrangle with a service and Windows application that aren’t laid out as intuitively as iTunes and the iTunes Store and that I pay a higher monthly fee ($15 a month) than the regular Rhapsody Unlimited subscription plan ($12 a month). And while I generally like the Sansa player, it’s not nearly as sleek or easy to navigate as my iPod.

Given Apple’s track record, it could easily do it better—easier to navigate, easier to move subscribed media to the iPod (and the Apple TV in the case of “rented” video), easier to turn subscribed music into purchased music, easier to stream music through your home, easier to put subscribed music in your car….

Just easier.

The music companies are clearly interested in subscription services. They like the chunk of change they receive for every subscriber. Create iPods and Apple TVs that can play subscribed music (and bar the door to other players) and Apple should be just as interested. And I’m here to testify that, as a satisfied subscriber, a significant portion of Apple’s customers would also enjoy the benefits of a subscription service done right.

It’s simply a matter of doing it right. Can you think of a company more qualified than Apple to take on the job?

This story, "iTunes, subscriptions, and getting it right" was originally published by PCWorld.

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