All you can eat

Published March 2, 2009

As media, and particularly music, becomes more and more digital, it seems as though subscription services are the way of the future. There are many sites out there that offer an all-you-can-eat style buffet service, allowing a monthly fee to provide access to all tracks behind the wall. Of course, once you cancel your subscription you are left with nothing, but as long as you continue to pay, you can continue to consume as much as you desire.

There are variations on this theme all over the web, and now it seems iTunes is heading the same way. Previously Apple had always denied an interest in subscription-based services. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, they say, and paying a single price to download an mp3 seems to work quite well for them.

However, they recently announced a deal with Depeche Mode (who?) for US iTunes users to pay $18.99 and get everything that is released within the next 15 weeks. This includes the new album, and apparently some audio and video exclusives.

The thing about this is, it’s all very well saying pay us some money and we will deliver you some content, but it doesn’t always work when the content is not set in stone. Paying for a series pass of TV shows is different because you know what you are getting in advance, and you know whether it’s worth it. Okay, you may find that you didn’t like the way the show went, but you got the hours of media that you put your hand in your pocket for.

I used to listen to a podcast that went to a subscription model and I liked it so much, and thought it worth the relatively low price. However, promises were made about the regularity of the show, and given the nature of the world, these couldn’t always be met. (That is not the reason I gave up my subscription, I would like to point out, I just felt like I wasn’t getting as much from the show anymore.)

I have heard some speculate that this payment in advance model is the way of the future for music, and could eventually replace albums (except for those die-hard few who like the physical form - like comic book fans). I’m not sure, though.

I have wondered about the future of albums. When there was no such thing as iTunes and I wasn’t old enough to have a credit card, I used to say: If I like two songs off an album, then I’ll buy it. I would never purchase singles. Now that has reversed, and quite drastically. I have purchased tons of individual songs off the Music Store but perhaps only three albums, and even those were a wrench.

So, what is the future of the album? Will it continue to exist? Will artists end up concentrating on one song at a time? Or is this 15 weeks at a time model the way to go?

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