Jobs says people don't want subscriptions for music. Is he right?

by Giles Turnbull

In an interview with Reuters Steve Jobs is quoted saying that customers are “not interested” in a subscription-based model for buying music.

What? None of them? How many has he asked?


Elroy Jetson
2007-04-30 13:52:26
Subscriptions. Its so easy to take music everywhere today that I would rather have the variety.
josh Bradley
2007-04-30 13:59:26
Subscriptions seem like a waste to me- if you decide you don't like the service, the company goes belly up or anything else happens to the online universe, you are out whatever it was you spent, with no music to show for it.

I have even gotten rid of cable TV at home because most of the shows I want to watch are available from iTunes for $2 per episode only I own them and can watch whenever I want. You can get all of the episodes for almost 10 shows per month for what you pay for cable in most cases.

Eric Shepherd
2007-04-30 14:00:11
For music, I'd rather own it. I don't mind DRM. I use iTunes and iPod, and did before Apple started selling music, so I don't care about DRM and "locking me into iTunes and iPod" because it doesn't affect my personal decision as to what I like to use.

For movies, however, I'd prefer to rent. It's a very different scenario -- most movies, I only watch them once, maybe twice. I buy a few on DVD, but those are the really great ones that I would want all the bonus features and packaging for anyway, so I wouldn't want to buy them as downloads.

2007-04-30 14:01:49
No, I think Steve's right. I like to "own" the music. That way if the authentication / network goes down, or the company folds, or I simply don't want to pay any more, or whatever, I still have the music I bought. It's a simpler model, and one that matches the way I consume music (I know what I like - and like to keep things I like). There's always the radio for "new" music - and if I like something I can buy it.

I can see why subscription might be attractive to some-people - but it's not for me...

2007-04-30 14:04:48
I have no interest whatsoever in subscription music. I like to own my CDs, thanks.
2007-04-30 14:13:07
Renting music makes sense. I already rent movies. So long as I pay netflix, I can watch as many movies as I want. When I stop paying them, I can't watch the movies any more. Same with cable TV. Why should Music be any different.

Let me rent music, and give it to me in a format that will play on any mp3 player.

2007-04-30 14:13:32
I'd much rather own the music that I like. To some extent, I can see the attraction of using a subscription to find new music that I haven't heard before but, to be honest, I just don't have the time or inclination to listen to a lot of music that I won't like in the hope of finding a few pearls. And even then, I'd probably listen to the radio.
2007-04-30 14:24:45
Ownership. In order to eliminated DRM, we have to break the subscription model anyway.
2007-04-30 14:33:20
Some people claim the advantage of subscription over ownership is that it lets you sample music that you're not familiar with (i.e. it opens your eyes to new musical tastes that you wouldn't have bought blind). While this may well be the case, and certainly in a CD world it's not necessarily easy to know what you're buying beforehand, with iTunes' specific way of selling you still get a fairly browsable experience due to the 30 second preview of each track / peoples' mixes offering suggestions etc.

For me, I prefer ownership, and ideally DRM free. Of all I prefer physical CDs (or some copy whereby when my computer goes belly up I haven't lost everything, plus with CDs you get the 'real' artwork and booklet etc.).

Andreas Bachofen
2007-04-30 14:36:05
I'm with Eric Shepherd, ownership for music, rental for movies. I seldom watch a movie twice, so I don't care if I can't watch it again if I don't pay the subscription anymore, but with music, it's totally different.
2007-04-30 14:37:59
If I want music I don't own, I'll listen to the radio (traditional or otherwise).
Otherwise, I buy CD's - and increasingly few of them nowadays. That's due to the record labels putting out so much crap and then overpricing it. With well over 700 of my CDs ripped (not far to go now until they're all done - phew), and Party Shuffle rarely turned off, I have no problem with variety.

2007-04-30 14:38:27
Both, of course. I want to use a subscription like I use a radio station, and then I'll buy the music I think is worth owning. Of course, I'll buy it on CD and rip it myself to a lossless format so I can stop suffering the endless degradation of quality and vendor lock in that the music industry has been foisting on us for so long.

Give me a music store that offers lossy subscriptions and lossless purchases and I'll show you a place where I'd spend a whole bunch of money.

Laura Lemay
2007-04-30 14:55:56
For me there are advantages to both models. I buy music on CD, on iTunes, and I have a music subscription. I like to own music that I listen to a lot, that is meaningful to me, that I'm going to move from computer to computer or loan to friends or put on iPods or cell phones or make mix cds with. The subscription is for serendipitously finding new music or for exploring older stuff I've heard about but never heard.

I need both.

Tim L
2007-04-30 15:03:29
Subscriptions? Absolutely NOT!
will young
2007-04-30 15:29:29
Subscription offers nothing that ownership cannot provide and lacks all of the the versatility and shelf life ownership affords. Being locked into a monthly fee whether you use the service or not - like a gym membership - is not a very progressive business model
2007-04-30 15:44:19
Why do we keep going round in circles with this? I have a music subscription - to eMusic and I pay a fixed monthly fee and I get 90 songs to download - there's no DRM, I own everything and can even download it multiple times (as long as my account is active) in case i delete anything by mistake. Nothing disappears if I stop paying.

If iTunes offer THAT kind of subscription they'll make a fortune. Steve Jobs constantly invoking the idea that subscription=rental (and then everyone repeating that assumption like sheep!) is ducking the question and/or missing the point.

(BTW - I do not work for eMusic!)

2007-04-30 16:07:47
Rent my music? No, thanks. I'd prefer to own.
2007-04-30 16:20:39
No interest in subscription.

Subscriptions seem like a teeny-bopper's approach to music -- someone who buys the latest top-40 bubblegum, listens to it non-stop for a couple weeks, then grows bored of it and throws it away.

If I like a piece of music, I expect to like it in a year, five years, ten years, and twenty years. I still listen to CDs I bought 20 years ago. I still listen to MP3s I ripped 8 years ago. Show me a subscription service that will certainly still be around with the same music in 5 years, let alone 8, let alone 20, and I might consider subscriptions.

2007-04-30 17:48:18
I'm interested in something that will help me find new (at least to me) music, with out the full expense of purchase. If I really like it, I'll buy it. And it must work disconnected from the net - that eliminates streaming radio options.

That's waht I want. Now if someone would invent it.

2007-04-30 18:25:08
I'm an iPod/MacBook Pro/Apple TV user as well as one who buys content from the iTunes store. For music, I wouldn't mind a hybrid model of having the ability to buy DRM-free music, but have a subscription service to try out new music without having to make the own commitment yet. The small cost for trial that comes with a subscription is sometimes nice. Then I can buy the stuff that I really like. Then I can buy the DRM-free higher quality stuff and quit the subscription at any time I like.

For movies I truly hope they are planning a rental service through the iTunes store. I like using Handbrake for my DVDs, but my MacBook Pro can only hold so much content at a given time - rental seems to be the best way to go for video content.

Besides - for TV episodes - who wants to own all the episodes for a given show? I guess some people do, but I just don't. Even for my favorite shows, it's mostly throw-away. I haven't really understood their own-only iTunes model for TV shows unless it's just that the rest of the iTunes store is own only and they want to keep it simple. Subscription or rental for TV shows is my preferred model. (Disclaimer - I own a Tivo and maybe that distorts my reality)

Anyway, that's more than my 2 bits or cents or whatever...

2007-04-30 20:21:22
I prefer to own my music. Without a doubt.
Jack Foster Mancilla
2007-04-30 20:22:39
Subdcription service is sub-service.

It does not make any sense to me that I should rent music for the rest of my life.

I see zero benifit in adding snother fee to live.

2007-04-30 20:25:52
Sorry, I should have put this in my original post. But in response to the eMusic type subscription, I don't want that either. You do own the music in eMusic, and that is great, but I do not like any monthly bills. By joining eMusic I have to spend a certain amount every month, whether or not I want to. Money may be tight that month, or there may be nothign I want to buy, but I am stuck buying anyway. I prefer buying what I want, when I want, and owning it afterwards, to any other system.

Now movies are a different story.

2007-04-30 20:59:07
Prefer to own.
2007-04-30 22:15:27
2007-04-30 23:16:34
It makes sense to have both. There is a lot of great music that is good, but not good enough for me to spend a buck or more for it. Let me sign up for a subscription, listen to a lot of great music, and buy a little of it that I want to keep for a long, long time. While subscriptions would like cannibalize some of the iTunes music store sales, I think it is obvious from the comments below that music purchases would continue even if iTunes offered a subscription model.
2007-05-01 00:26:06
Why would I pay for a subscription service when I have the radio and pocasts? When I buy music I want it to be mine, and not something that disappears when my subscription ends. Thinking down the line - do you want to spend your retirement days wondering about whether you should pay for your music subscription vs anything else?
2007-05-01 00:54:08
For casual music I use the radio and internetradio, but my "serious" music I want to own.
2007-05-01 01:05:37
"How many has he asked?"

I don't know whether Apple have done surveys to gauge demand, but I should think Jobs is mostly basing this on the notably poor performance of the subscription services. Interestingly, he did predict those services would do badly back in 2003 (in that interview with _Rolling Stone_). He is why he thought that would happen:

"These [music subscription] services that are out there now are going to fail. Here's why: People don't want to buy their music as a subscription. They bought 45's; then they bought LP's; then they bought cassettes; then they bought 8-tracks; then they bought CD's. They're going to want to buy downloads. People want to own their music. You don't want to rent your music -- and then, one day, if you stop paying, all your music goes away.

"And, you know, at 10 bucks a month, that's $120 a year. That's $1,200 a decade. That's a lot of money for me to listen to the songs I love. It's cheaper to buy, and that's what they're gonna want to do."

Good call. It's always more expensive in the long run to rent. This is why the Duke of Westminster is the wealthiest man in Britain - because his family rents out some of the most desirable property in London and elsewhere. Where others sold off what they had, the Duke is still collecting.

Jobs did say recently "Never say never, but customers don't seem to be interested in it". If it became clear that this was what people were interested in - if these subscription services suddenly took off - one assumes Apple would offer one. But it's highly unlikely that they will. Obviously, the record companies would like to keep collecting over all those decades Jobs mentioned. The public, correctly, divines that that's not such a good idea for them.

But I suppose that people might be interested in subscriptions to other forms of content that people don't tend to revisit quite as often as they do their music. We'll have to see what happens, which services do well, when movie downloads/subscriptions become more common.

2007-05-01 06:21:58
"What? None of them? How many has he asked?"

Steve asked me. We were in line for lattes after a morning run with our Nike + iPods. I told him,"I'm not interested in subscription music". Everyone one else in line agreed with me. We thought subscriptions were a waste of money.

Steve said, "Yeah, me too. I just asking because Ballmer was going on and on about it and being so gross and all."

2007-05-01 10:22:36
Put me in the own camp.

MZ - How do you "rent" and play with any MP3 player? There's no way to revoke, so you've really bought in that case.

2007-05-01 11:09:44
When I hear a song I like I go online and buy it so I can listen when I like. I am picky about what I listen to and would not like to sat at a computer to listen to streams of music that are not my choice but random. I also listen to music during my weekday commute via car and train. My iPod is a constant companion. A subscription where I don't own the music would not help at all. BTW, I only purchase CDs if I can't find the song online. I generally load it on my computer and iPod and toss the disk aside or give it away. Since I backup my computer hard drive I have no need for the CD. So a subscription would not work for my lifestyle at all. BTW, I stopped buying CDs long before I purchased an iPod or starting downloading music. I found them to be too expensive when only 1 song on the CD was worth listening to. The music industry is to blame for that. The MP3 player rekindled my interest in purchasing music again. The fact that I could download a song for less than a buck helped also.
M. David Peterson
2007-05-01 13:45:50
via Jeremy,

I'm an iPod/MacBook Pro/Apple TV user as well as one who buys content from the iTunes store. For music, I wouldn't mind a hybrid model of having the ability to buy DRM-free music, but have a subscription service to try out new music without having to make the own commitment yet. The small cost for trial that comes with a subscription is sometimes nice. Then I can buy the stuff that I really like. Then I can buy the DRM-free higher quality stuff and quit the subscription at any time I like.

Absolutely! Implement a simple time-based DRM mechanism and provide this mechanism on top of 128k versions of a track. At the moment there is very little incentive to purchase a track of equal bit-rate quality that I can get via a subscription plan, the exception being the ability to burn a track I purchased onto a CD and play that track on any CD player as a result. But let's be honest: How many of us who own a device that is subscription-enabled are really all that concerned with the ability to play tracks on anything other than our portable devices that can already play them? There are simply too many ways to take the output from our portable device and plug it into the input of our car or home audio system, so again, the incentive to purchase a track just so I can burn it to a CD is tiny, at best.

Of course, increase the available bit-rate and remove the DRM such that I can play that same track on any device that supports the format (AAC, WMA, OGG, etc. just *NOT* MP3! Call all the formats MP3 in marketing, for all I care, just don't actually use the MP3 format anymore... It's bloated, overhyped, and 1.5 billion dollars says that not even legitamately licensing the technology is enough to avoid legal problems), and you have yourself a deal. Well, at least a deal for those tracks that I decided were worthy of a purchase via listening to them as often as I might want via the subscription service.

Travis Butler
2007-05-01 13:49:45
I have a problem with subscriptions in several respects:

* I don't want to keep paying for access to my music. This is the sticking point for most of the 'average' people I talk to: some of them sound interested in being able to download all you want, but as soon as they learn everything goes away when you stop the subscription, they lose interest.

(This is where all the ordinary people I talk to fall on the issue, BTW; the only people I've talked to who remain interested in subscriptions after knowing the fine print are tech enthusiasts.)

* I do, in fact, want to own my stuff. I usually buy books instead of borrowing from the library, I almost always buy movies instead of renting them (and rarely go to the movie theater these days), and I have no interest in 'renting' music. If I'm paying money for something, and it's something I have the option of 'owning' (as opposed to something like food :) that's ephemeral by definition), I always want to own; I hate the idea of paying for something and getting nothing permanent in return.

* Taking things even further, I have a serious philosophical problem with the quoted desire of various entertainment executives to move things towards a pay-per-[x] model, where you wouldn't be able to pay a single 'ownership' price and listen/read/watch something as much as you wanted, but would have to pay every time you enjoyed something. I find this idea offensive, I view subscription services as a move in this direction, and I will therefore resist them as much as I can.

* Finally, in order to work, subscription services require a more restrictive and onerous DRM scheme. I can get along with the ITMS DRM, which has only caused me trouble a couple of times, but I really dislike the kind of lockdown that Janus appears to enforce.

(And no, I don't see the eMusic system as a viable alternative; looking at it from the artist's POV, the only reason I would agree to offer my music with an all-you-can-eat-to-keep service is if I were desperate for exposure.)

2007-05-01 14:08:49
I want to own my music.

Subscriptions are first and foremost an excuse for a company to extract recurring revenue from the consumer, not primarily as a benefit to the consumer (although it's sold as being such). That's really the only reason subscription schemes are invented.

For "disposable" things like a daily newspaper, monthly magazine, or for movies that you will only ever watch once, maybe subscription makes sense and the consumer benefits (almost) as much as the provider. But after a 2 or 3 or 4 years of monthly music subscription payments, what do you have to show for it?

as for the example mentioned by one reader about eMusic - that "subscription" service certainly isn't like the other rental-type services, but again it really exists to extract recurring monthly money from the subscribers.

eMusic still sounds like "owning" the music to me, with the added disadvantage that eMusic has their hand in your wallet guaranteed each month regardless of whether you buy 0 tracks or 90 tracks... doesn't seem to be any strong advantage to the consumer unless you know you'll consume your limit each month. Granted, if you do download to your max limit, you're effectively buying-to-own the songs at a good discounted rate compared to iTMS (assuming you can find the artists you want on eMusic, but that's another discussion). anyhow, in context of this discussion, eMusic is not the usual unlimited subscription model

2007-05-01 15:00:52
I sick of the whole music industry.

Get rid of DRM it's a waste of time and resources with no economic benefit except for people who want to get rich for doing nothing.

It used to be that reproducing music on a large scale was expensive. Now it's cheap. The people who make music should get paid what its worth up front, but frankly it shouldn't matter how popular a song is to a recording company. They should not expect to get rich for reproducing it. It costs X amount of money to produce it, and they should get that money back through the economy, but not much more.

We need to change the music economy to reflect the new realities of technology. People don't want to pay for fancy album covers. They don't want to pay for fancy cars for a guy who's only claim to fame is that he cut a deal with a good song writer or singer. And they certainly don't want to pay somebody to $10 copy one CD onto another CD. At one time this may have been true due to the costs of production, but not anymore.

I'll buy a song if I can own the right to play it on whatever I want, whenever I want. I listen to the radio now, and that's about it. Even then, I have to turn that off at times to avoid all the hype. I haven't obtained a new CD or record in years because I think that industry is just full of corruption and greed.

The new pay to download model might be a step in the right direction, until you start reading the fine print. Until they start using open standard formats with no DRM, I won't jump onto that bandwagon. Don't we all have better things to do than worry about this crap.

Rua HM
2007-05-02 14:15:42
It seems all the vehemently anti-subscription comments are coming from people that might, say, not get their money's worth in a given month.

I myself would welcome a subscription service - I want to be able to listen on demand to full-track good quality versions of as much new music as physically possible, and any subscription model (even with the most draconian DRM) allows you to do that much better than an "ownership" or other non-subscription model.

Having good quality access to so much music allows consumers (like myself) to make the best possible decision when purchasing to own.

A good quality music subscription service with a huge catalogue is also something that has not been technically feasible until recent years (i.e. the web and broadband and storage capacity); I welcome it.

2007-05-04 13:05:32
Is radio a subscription service? Even a free one? Sirius is not free but is subscription.

I realize that is not the argument here but for music discovery I use TV and radio. I am quite happy to then buy it to "own" it. I don't listen to a huge variety of music either though, just add an album every week or so. Sometimes I won't buy music for a month which means I would be paying for my music over and over, I also worry about losing it all after I built up a really good playlist if I traveled somewhere it was no longer available or the subscription service went belly up.

2007-05-07 03:51:30
Ownership, thanks.
Chris B
2007-05-08 07:30:30
Ownership all the way. I'm still old school as well in that I buy albums rather than cherry-pick singles.
2007-08-06 19:16:38
Steve Jobs is correct. I prefer to own my own music. Besides that , I prefer to get them when I want them. I might go months without
downloading a song. Then , I might download 50 one month , then go a while before I get more. If I am paying a subscription price , I am loosing money that way. Plus , I just don't care to download that many songs per a month.

I like Steve Jobs answer. He is right for me.

2007-08-14 14:06:07
Subscription is a better service for me. I like to listen to random things at random times and the ability to choose from a large song list on a whim is worth the risk for loosing music to me. They really need to work on the bugs though.
2008-01-27 16:49:23
He's right, I don't want a freakin' subscription. But what I want is the ability to buy a song for 99 cents or 1.20 or whatever, anytime I want without having a freakin' subscription. I don't neccessarily need to buy the cd, but I do buy plenty. But If I want one song I'd like to be able to charge it to my credit card without having to sign up for some account that I'll probably forget I even have. I don't need a 14 day free trial, only to find out 3 months later that you've charged my card 45 bucks and I downloaded only 1 freakin' song.