Okay, if you buy an empty iPod Classic, have never owned a CD or bought a piece of music in your life, and are determine to immediately fill that 120GBs to the brim, then $30K iTunes will cost you.
However, if you've already got a sizable CD collection, or music collection of any kind -- even your own compositions -- or want to carry around class lectures or other forms of audio or -- hey -- video maybe, well, it can cost much, much less. Maybe even less than the $15 a month Microsoft would rather you cough up to them for a ZunePass subscription.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not against the subscription model. I don't think it can hold a candle to the iPhone and iPod touches coup de grace -- online streaming music for (pretty much) free -- but for some users subscription is the way to go. (Especially now in the DRM-free world where Microsoft shutting down PlaysForSure didn't threaten to destroy large and dearly-paid for music collections, right Microsoft?). What I am against is bland, ultimately not compelling advertising. Ars Technica lays it out:
As of November 2008, the Zune Pass allows its users to keep any 10 songs per month. In other words, if you wanted 30,000 songs for keeps, just like the iTunes Store, you would have to wait 250 years. The cost would be a whopping $45,000, however. In other words, it's only really worth it if you're OK with the fact that you have to keep paying the monthly fee to keep access to the songs that you don't yet own. Otherwise, iTunes (or any other à la carte model) is the way to go.
And again, the iPhone and iPod touch (for which Microsoft has no competitive offering since they keep denying the ZunePhone and Zune HD is still vaporware) can do better, cheaper with free internet radio apps.
Unless you want an extra $15+ bill tacked onto your monthly services overhead?
(Thanks Matt for the tip!)