Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    Music: Ownership vs. Access

    I've recently signed up for two different music services, Google Music Beta and Rdio, but it was the Rdio account that really got me thinking about whether or not I needed to own my music.  Up 'til recently, ownership was really the only way to go.  With traditional ownership you can select the music you want to listen to, organize it into playlists and carry it with you on the go (on your smartphone or iPod).

    Rdio, however, allows you to gain all of these benefits from traditional ownership.  With Rdio, you can select the music you want to listen to as long as it is in Rdio's library, and Rdio has quite a hefty library.  You can organize the music into play lists and if you're willing to pay for the premium account you can carry it with you on your smartphone or iPod (by either streaming or syncing).  There's one big difference, though.  If you stop paying for Rdio, you lose access to all of this music.

    It's that exact thought, the fact that Rdio provides access, not ownership, that got me thinking:  Is ownership really as important today as it was in the past?

    There has been movement on the traditional ownership front as well that has brought the two (ownership and access) back to feature parity:  cloud storage (aka: bit lockers).  Both Amazon and Google have recently launched services that allow you to store your owned copies of music in the cloud and stream them to your devices or computer via http.  The size limits are such that you can feasibly store quite a bit of music (in the 100 GB range) in the lockers.  You can then access web pages or apps which will stream this music back to you.  It's worth noting that this scheme has yet to be tested in court, and almost certainly will be, though both Amazon and Google maintain that since they are only streaming music the user owns, there's nothing that requires additional licensing.

    While Google Music is in beta and is free for the time being, Amazon charges for the storage space, $1/GB per year.  For 100GB of music, you're looking at $100/year for the service, which equates to $8.33/month.  It's interesting to note, though, that Rdio charges about the same for premium access at $9.99/month.  If all you want is streaming on your computer and not mobile access, then you can get the service for $4.99/month.  Google Music allows you to store by the song, not the GB, and will allow you to store 20,000 songs.  In practice that will equate to about 100 GB of music.

    It would appear that the services are similarly priced, until you take into account the fact that you will also need to buy (as none of my dear readers would dare torrent an album, I'm sure) your own music on Amazon or Google.  Depending on how much music you buy, this can incur a significant cost.  As long as that music is in Rdio's library, you can just add it to your collection and listen as much as you want without incurring any additional fees.

    Music Library
    But, the library is the rub.  As I discovered when talking about this with a friend, Rdio's library doesn't contain much of anything that you can't get from the major labels.  We went through a list of bands that had only released on CD, were brand spankin' new, or were only together for a special project.  None of them were in Rdio's library, though several were at least taken note of and had pages in Rdio.  With Google and Amazon, all you need to do is rip those CDs and upload them and you're good to go.

    Uploading, though, can be a pain.  As I write this, Google Music Manager has been eating my bandwidth for at least 24 hours to upload 2000 of 3600 songs.  Amazon Cloud Drive is in much the same boat.  That initial upload is a real killer.  I anticipate at least another 20 hours of uploads.  If I lived in Canada, that would most certainly rail my bandwidth for the month.

    So where does that leave us?  There are, of course, reasons to go with something like Cloud Drive or Google Music.  You ostensibly own the music and if you decide you don't want to pay the storage fee you can keep listening past that monthly/yearly payment off of whatever it is you store that music on.  As well, you can upload whatever you would like:  None of the edge cases are denied you as long as you have the music in hand, so the only library limits are based on what you actually own.

    But, the question of ownership vs. access comes down to one of cost of exploration in my book.  With services like Rdio, I can explore and find new music to my hearts content.  I pay one monthly fee for the privilege.  I can pay the premium price and take that music with me on my devices, as well, without having to constantly stream.  To explore said music with a service like Google Music or Amazon Cloud Drive, I would have to pay the cost of the storage plus the cost of the exploration in buying new music.  In my case, that cost of exploration could get quite high.  Rdio helps me keep that cost down.

    In my eyes, access wins.  I'll pay a marginal monthly fee to keep access to such a vast library happily, one that I can explore to my hearts content.

    Edit: Changed some font colors


    Michael.Rollins said...

    Testing comments...

    Brian Linzy said...

    Do I need a DisQus account now?

    Brian Linzy said...

    Guess I answered that question. Looks good. So it's aggregating related tweets as well as comments posted here... anything else? Facebook?

    Brian Linzy said...

    I have to correct something I said yesterday in my comment here. I said in order to get the Stand By My soundtrack (which I bought from Amazon and later deleted) I'd have to download it again then upload it to back to Amazon. But after reading their FAQs I see now that I would have to *buy* it again, download it, then upload it to the cloud service. I assumed once I bought it I'd be able to download it again any time, but that's not the case.

    rollinsio said...

    At heart there, Brian, is the fact that copyright has to do with just that, copies. According to the deals that Amazon and Apple have all signed with the record labels any download of a complete song counts as a new copy, and therefor needs a new purchase. You'll find the same thing in iTunes.

    Something about the bit lockers, though, may make them exempt. You don't need a license to copy from one hard disc to another, and the bit lockers are just big piles of online storage, another disc that only you have access to. With the bit lockers, you're uploading your own copy to your own storage, then streaming your own copy back to yourself. Amazon draws the comparison to playing music with Windows Media Player across a network: That doesn't require a special license.

    The way we treat music now-a-days is bonkers, honestly, and is being held back by archaic copyright laws. Think of it this way: We could have been streaming music easily since around 98, but it's only been the last few years that it's become a reality for everyone.

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