Posted by: Eddie | September 2, 2009

Why I love Zune: Subscription Music

I’m eagerly looking forward to getting my new Zune HD, and in reading articles, and especially the comments people leave in response to those articles, I’m struck how few people are aware of subscription music, and the great flexibility it can bring to those of us who love listening to a large variety of music. Their iPod blinders are so narrow that they can’t imagine another MP3 player having meaningful advantages, much less imagine how much fun a subscription service can be. This post outlines a few of my thoughts on why I love these services, and the Zune Pass in particular.

Access to Millions of Songs….
First of all, the obvious benefit even detractors seem to get is that you do have access to millions of songs in their entirety. I don’t think it really sinks in just how much freedom and flexibility this can bring, but they do at least realize it exists. You’re not stuck listening to purchased tracks, you can peruse a (6? 7? million) strong library of music, all of which is available as complete songs, rather than 30 second snippets.

…When You Want…
Frequently I also see people saying “I already have this with Pandora/Slacker/LastFM” etc etc. No, you don’t. None of those services, even in their ‘for pay’ version, let you listen to CDs in their entirety in the exact song order of your choice. None of them let you construct your own playlists from those songs, and listen to them as often as you want. In their free version (and in some cases such as Pandora even in their paid version) you are stuck with a limited number of skips per hour, or might possibly hear DJs, advertisements, etc..

…Where You Want…
Some of these competing services may let you listen to music (in the order they choose) while you have wi-fi or, in the case of iPhone apps, 3G availability, but none of them (with the exception of the paid Slacker service) let you have your music available when wi-fi/3G is NOT available (commuting in the subway, flying on a plane, no available signal, etc.) While Slacker does let you load up their G2 player, you still don’t have exact control on songs played and song order like you do with the Zune.

…With No Worries of “Losing” Your Music…
Inevitably people say, as if this is some terrific end-of-discussion point: “But what if you STOP paying, what happens to all your music then?!?”. Yes, *poof*, it goes away. (At least once the subscription period expires.) But, guess what, the moment I pay again, *poof*, it’ll all be back and ready-to-go. Unlike purchased songs through iTunes which, if you lose, you have to go begging to Apple to re-download again, I can know that as soon as my subscription service is active again I can re-license and instantly make available all that music I was listening to before.

If you grow accustomed to using this type of service, the question of not paying the $15 never arises. For the price of a single movie you have this ‘giant jukebox’ to enjoy for dozens of hours every month. My Zune, usually loaded with hours and hours of new music every week in addition to all my favorites I’ve discovered over time, is by my side while coding at work, commuting to/from work, while on longer drives, etc. When I’m home at night I often listen to the PC-based Zune Marketplace for an hour or two as I peruse what’s out there and track down some interesting new music to check out.

For less than the cost of one CD a month I get access to hundreds of thousands of CDs. If you ever stopped paying for your iPhone or other cell phone service, guess what, you’d have to pay for an alternative service, but that doesn’t mean paying for the service your iPhone provides isn’t worth it. By the same token, this is a music SERVICE. It’s not about ownership, it’s about access. And the access is more than worth the $15.

…AND You Get to Keep Your Favorites Forever…
Having made the argument for why I think the $15 is worth it, the Zune Pass sweetens the pot by letting me download 10 MP3 songs a month to keep, even if I end the service. That means after a year of using the Zune Pass I’ll have about 12 CDs worth of music that will NOT go away if I should be crazy enough to stop the service. Even if the threat of “losing all your music” worries you, this certainly should alleviate a large part of that worry.

In other words, I’m getting $10 of my $15 back in the form of MP3s, and I’m only paying $5 for the subscription service access itself. As long as you would buy at least one CD a month without the service, this makes a very good deal even better.

…and With Fewer Worries About Storage…
Some people are concerned that the new Zune HD only goes up to 32Gb storage (at least for now.) But, one of the joys of a subscription service is that I can delete and redownload large chunks of music with little hassle and no extra cost. In addition, the Zune has wifi access so as long as I’m in range of a usable wifi signal I can go out to the Zune service and download songs/CDs on demand. The need to tote around dozens of gigabytes of music is much less when I have that option. Combine that with the ability to store a still sizable chunk of music locally when I don’t have wifi access, and you have the flexibility I mentioned before, and you have all your bases covered.

…That Can Be Legally Shared by Friends and Family…
Every Zune account can be used on up to 3 devices and 3 computers, so you can split your Zune account with up to 2 other people, and all of you can have unlimited subscription music access for the same $15 a month. You’ll only get the same 10 songs per month to keep, but it’s extremely economical for families. A co-worker bought two used Zunes (one from me) and a new one for himself, and he and his two sons all listen to their favorites for the same $15 a month. Each gets to load the specific songs they like on their own computer to their own Zune, all for that $15. Legally.

…Adds Up to an Excellent Deal
Without hesitation I say this is the best $15 I spend a month. I get many, many hours of enjoyment out of it every week: I get to keep the “cream of the crop” of the songs I listen to forever without DRM, and I get to explore a giant selection of music with total freedom of what I listen to, when, and where I want.

It’s much more liberating to see music as a service that opens up to you like some fantastically varied sonic meadow rather than a paltry plucking of carefully chosen petals here and there. I hope I’m not stretching an analogy too thin here, but I’ll take paying money to be given access to a giant field to romp through under the open skies any day over paying money to sit in some small airless room that I “own”.

Ok, maybe that analogy is lame, but my point is this: the Zune Pass subscription service is a great deal, and is something NO iPod owner can take advantage of. Not only do we Zune owners get an MP3 player that most reviewers do say is almost as good, if not as good or even better than the equivalent iPod in terms of features, but we can take advantage of this wonderful service that Apple, in its infinite heavy-handed wisdom, has deemed is not worth offering to the owners of the iPod.

My Zune is charged up and ready to go for the next day. I have about 8 hours of coding to do tomorrow, and I’ll have a wide selection of old favorites and new music to listen to, in any order I want, all day long.

I love my Zune.

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