Rumor: Apple Considering All-You-Can-Eat Music Subscriptions?


People don't want to rent their music. So said Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Of course, the Jobsinator also said people don't want to watch video on tiny iPod screens, and we see how far that got him...

So, while 100% unsubstantiated rumor at the moment, The Financial Times (via Apple Insider) is reporting a "tip off" that says Apple is now considering an unlimited music program similar to Nokia's "Comes With Music".

Under the terms of that plan, manufacturers would pay the recording industry a per-device fee (passed on to the consumer, 'natch) that would allow for "unlimited" music over the course of a year. When the year's up, consumers could either renew the subscription themselves or let it lapse and keep "50-60" songs they've already downloaded.

What the cost(s) will be (guesses range from $5 a month to $100 per device), what kind of DRM (digital rights management) will be in place, what quality compression (128-bit like standard iTunes or higher 256-bit like iTunes+ and Amazon MP3) will be used, and basically every and all other details remain to be announced.

It is noted that, because of it's existing cell phone billing arrangement, a more traditional monthly subscription model may also be made available exclusively for the iPhone.

The parties (Apple and the music industry) are reportedly still far apart when it comes to terms, but revenue streams makes for strange bedfellows (hi, AT&T!) so we'll have to wait for another Special Music Event (starring Paul McCartney, of course) to know for sure.

Personally, I wouldn't mind a subscription service. If the music industry had any sense (please, hold your laughter 'til the end...), they would provide radio-like free streams of low bit-rate music with an easy "buy now" button for higher quality. It would allow people to discover music again, just like the iTunes/Starbucks initiative, and give the rapidly dehydrating recording industry their own little sip of water...

What do you think? Buy or die? Rent over spend? How do you want your iPhone music?

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Rumor: Apple Considering All-You-Can-Eat Music Subscriptions?


Pah. What I'd like: 1) the other three majors to give us 256 kbps DRM-free on iTMS, or 2) the Amazon UK mp3 store to open sooner rather than later (allegedly it will be sometime this year). The labels do seem to be learning that it's rather a good idea to give customers what they want, but the rate of progress is stupidly slow, in the case of iTMS probably because they're playing politics with Apple.

The labels aren't learning. Did you hear Billy Joel's little speech at the Hall of Fame, when he said he never would have guessed John Cougar Mellencamp (sp?) would outlive the music industry?
They're committing suicide by committee. This Week In Media was discussing how "mix tape" models, letting pod-casters use short intros/outros with "buy now" buttons etc. are all illegal and unavailable, yet would make tons of money for the labels.
The core problem is that the internet has made labels irrelevant. They used to make money by extorting artists (giving them money to put them into perpetual debt) and producing bits of plastic to distribute via brick and mortar. Artists soon won't need labels any more. Labels know this an are desperately clinging with all the old media power they can, but their time is up.

I do think it's a little better it than it was a couple of years ago (when everything was DRMed), but yeah I agree of course that the important relationship is between those making the music and those listening and the labels have an unwarranted level of self importance. They seem to think it's 'their' music, which is only true in the prosaic of ways. The crazy thing is that they could probably make a whole lot more money if they'd just wake up to what people want, like DRM-free music from by far the most popular means of distributing digital music.

Does 256-bit really make a difference when you listen to ipod? I couldn't really tell if 256 is much better than 128.

To the average consumer? No. They've clearly voted with their wallets and bought billions of 128-bit songs. To a certain level of audiophile? Absolutely. But then again, CD-lovers think all MP3's constrain the range. Vinyl-heads think all CD's lack depth and richness. And live musicians think every recorded not pales compared to being there.
Interestingly, I've been hearing recently that the brain processes digital music differently than analog. Digital music compression is lossy -- it throws out sounds (or color in the case of JPG) that scientists believe the human brain won't notice (because we can distinguish certain ranges well, or because we can't hear one note at the same time as another). However, just like the brain fills in detail on a color reduced JPG to make it look like contiguous tone (or fills in motion in the static series of images that make movies possible), the brain fills in what it thinks it's missing. That, to put it into computer terms, means that it is more processor intensive (brain power) to decompress digital music while listening. Some have said this also effects our emotional response to said music, since our brain is working harder instead of just focusing on the enjoyment.
Wow, tangent-y much? :)

iPhone already streams. I listen to and watch a lot of podcasts via streaming. They open up in QuickTime touch, which strangely even allows for rotation (portrait or landscape) unlike the iPod app.
(Discovered it when I clicked on one of CaliLewis' tinyurl links in Twitter and Geekbrief began streaming!)