By Richard Menta- 12/12/01
One thing about PressPlay launching its service after MusicNet had launched theirs. They get to see first hand the reaction its competitor garners by users with the rules, costs, and limitations imposed by the record labels new services. This means they are able to change anything that flops before their own service goes live.
Granted, much of what is wrong with MusicNet and PressPlay was forseen by analysts and fans long before the former launched. OK, so the major label services had to see for themselves. MusicNet launched first and the reviews were awful. PressPlay is now backtracking in an effort to make its service more desirable when it is launched at the end of this month.
The first announcement came yesterday when PressPlay announced that they will allow users to burn the music they purchase from the service onto CD. Originally, none of the music paid for on these services could be moved beyond the confines of the PC. They could not be burned onto any media and they could not be transferred to a portable MP3 player.
Portability turns out to be a critical feature for those who download tunes from the Net. There is no epiphany with that statement. There are many companies, including major players like SonicBlue, US Robotics, and Bose, who are developing products designed to specifically liberate the digital tunes from the computers modest speakers and bring them to the superior ones attached to the home stereo. That's just one niche as making digital music more portable evolves into a market segment all in itself.
Part of the reason that portability is restricted is because the files sold by PressPlay and MusicNet are designed to expire every 30 days. This is one way the record companies figure they are going to stop the music they sell to customers from later being traded for free on Napster clones. The user must pay the monthly fee in perpetuity if the songs downloaded from these services are to work. If a consumers monthly payment is ever stopped, the songs go dormant at the end of a month.
The problem is, under this plan, you can't prevent these tunes from going dormant unless they are constantly tethered online.
At first, this news seemed to hint that PressPlay may also be backing off from imposing the monthly expiration on their songs. That or let the files burned on CD simply go bad after 30 days, requiring the user to throw it out and burn a new one.
That may be the plan. With blank CDs so cheap these days, it offers a temporary portablility and a short term solution to one of PressPlay's problems. Of course, consumers don't see blank CDs as a disposable media, they see it as an archiving media. Perceptions certainly can change, but isn't it just easier to dowload the song for free from the Napster clones as they have no restrictions on song use?
It's probably safe to say that most, if not all, PressPlay and MusicNet subscribers have used Napster or one of its clones first. Through this experience they already have expectations to what a good online music service should offer. Every time these services violate those expectations, they lose a paying customer.
No doubt both services are reevaluating what those expectations are and how to appease them. PressPlay has the advantage by being second to market, so they can make improvements before anyone can be discouraged by the product. That includes pricing, which under the MusicNet plan makes renting a CDs worth of digital music for one year more expensive than buying the CD itself.
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