I’ve spent a week with the
Yahoo! Music Unlimited subscription music service
and much as it may distress those loyal to the iTunes Music Store, I have to say that it’s a keeper. Yeah, yeah, I know. Steve Jobs says that we want to own our music rather than rent it, but Steve, you didn’t also add “unless, of course, you can rent it for the amount of money you pull from the cracks of the couch each month.”
Hang on a sec, before you start in, let me acknowledge that I’m aware that:
- You can’t play Yahoo’s music on the iPod unless you buy it, burn it to CD, re-rip it in iTunes, and then transfer it to the iPod.
- The service won’t work with Macs.
- Once you stop paying Yahoo, you lose access to your subscribed music.
- Yahoo doesn’t carry the broad variety of music available from the iTunes Music Store.
- Yahoo’s current pricing is a loss leader—they’re likely to jack up the price at any time.
To which I reply:
I don’t care.
And the reason I don’t care is because Yahoo! Music Unlimited and the iTunes Music Store satisfy different needs. Having both in my music arsenal makes my enjoyment of music more complete. For me the two services’ strengths break out this way:
iTunes Music Store
If I plan to buy music, I’ll do so from the iTunes Music Store because it’s easier to put my purchased music on the best portable music player around—the iPod.
When you’ve paid Apple for music, you own it—it’s not going anywhere simply because you failed to pay a monthly fee to keep it alive.
Although I have a late-model Windows PC, I prefer the Mac. The iTunes Music Store works with both computer platforms whereas Yahoo works with Windows only.
Yahoo needs to fill out its catalog. Currently it carries no classical music, nor is an audiobook anywhere to be found. iTunes has the better selection by far.
It couldn’t be much easier to find the music you want on the iTunes Music Store. The home page is packed with information that’s well organized as is each genre page. And once you’ve established an account, it’s a breeze to buy music.
The iTunes Music Store is a mature service that offers such welcome extras as gift certificates, allowances, music videos, movie trailers, user mixes, celebrity playlists, radio charts, and a nice selection of exclusives. Yahoo has a long way to go in this regard.
Yahoo! Music Unlimited
If you’re a musical explorer—the kind of person who rifles through the racks at used CD and record stores—a subscription service makes sense. You can listen to a lot of new music—complete songs rather than 30 second snippets—for very little money. The service nicely links music so it’s easy to discover music you’ll like.
Yahoo has a large community of users and the service is built in such a way that it’s easy to share music and recommendations with others.
If you’re sitting in front of your PC and get a sudden hankering to listen to John Coltrane, you can do it without spending a nickel more than what you pay for your subscription each month.
Yahoo and Apple’s “radio” are completely different beasts. iTunes streams selected stations from the Internet at varying bit-rates (most of them at lower bit-rates). These stations aren’t always on. Yahoo! offers something more akin to satellite radio—where you hear music streamed from the service’s library that fits a particular genre; jazz or urban, for example. By entering your artist preferences, Yahoo will create a personalized “station” that features music you’re likely to enjoy—including artists you’ve specifically requested as well as related artists chosen by the service. Yahoo’s choices aren’t spot-on, but you may be surprised at how much of the material you do like.
Yes, Yahoo will pump up the price in the future, but I’ve signed up for a year’s subscription at $5 a month. For the next year I get a lot of the music I want for next to nothing. If I’m not happy with the prices a year from now, adios, Yahoo!
What this tells me
Would I like to see all these goodies rolled into a single service? You bet! Am I suggesting that the iTunes Music Store jump to a subscription-only model? Hell no. Now that I understand the appeal of a cheap subscription service, I would, however, like to see Apple add subscriptions as an enhancement to its current services. Those who like the current model can continue to purchase albums and tracks as they always have. Those who’d like to pitch in an extra amount of cash each month or year to access all the music The Store has to offer, could do so. (Heck, while you’re at it, offer those same subscription customers downloads at a higher bit-rate.)
When Apple first unveiled the iTunes Music Store, Steve Jobs made a compelling case that subscription models of the time made little sense. Yahoo! Music Unlimited has convinced me that times have changed.