“When Amazon Dies“, a recent piece in The Atlantic, is an interesting look at one of the biggest hurdles for converting “a la carte” (or “cloud”) service users to subscription streaming services: Users want to keep the content they’ve purchased. But when a service goes away or an account is deactivated, any content that was saved “in the cloud” disappears too.
Other than books (which I read on my Kindle), I generally prefer subscription services to a la carte and download models for two reasons:
1.) Unlike a download or a la carte streaming service, paying a subscription rate allows you unlimited access to the service’s catalog. I currently have a Beats subscription, which has just about every album/artist/track I can think of. When that service goes away, I’ll be sad, but then I’ll subscribe to another service where I’ll have access to a catalog that is – to me, anyway – functionally the same. I won’t feel like my subscription was a sunk cost, because I’m paying for continued access to a broad catalog, rather than buying access to specific albums which may or may not remain available to me later.
2.) If you’re using an a la carte streaming service, there’s no guarantee your music will always be available to you. In fact, it’s not really “yours”. Depending on the service, Digital Rights Management (DRM) may be in effect. DRM can limit the number of devices to which you copy your music, and any retroactive changes in territory restrictions can mean content gets pulled from your cloud streaming library after a “takedown” is issued. Personally, I’d rather pay for a subscription service. If an album I want to listen to gets taken down, at least I didn’t pay for just that album.
The downside to switching services, however, is the thought of losing playlists. This one isn’t a big deal to me either, actually. I tend to listen to music while I’m working, so I’m a big fan of playlists that are “curated” by someone else, rather than ones I create. It’s nice to hear a variety music I enjoy without having to invest time into setting up the playlist. I may be an outlier – I know a lot of people enjoy crafting the perfect playlists for partying, studying, cleaning, etc.
I think the connection to our playlists goes deeper, though, than the time and thought we’ve put into them. To a large extent, the music we choose is part of our identities, especially when we share our tastes with others. Most people remember the first physical album/tape/CD they purchased. Everyone loves to play DJ at parties. Vinyl collecting has been enjoying a resurgence for years, partly because records can be arrayed on shelves in the living room for everyone to admire. When we lose that ability to curate and show off music, we lose part of that connection. Music becomes fully intangible.
So how do we incorporate an interest in media ownership into an increasingly digital world? Possibly a playlist-porting service like Soundiiz has potential, but I’d like it better if it was fully independent from any existing service – i.e., if it wasn’t owned by a streaming service.
Perhaps sharing what we’re listening to on social networks is the way of the future, but that’s exactly what put me off Spotify in the past. From what I remember, in Spotify’s early days, an account had to be linked with a social media account, and by default it would update your Facebook page with the music you’d been listening to. Beyond the added clutter, I never liked that feature because there was a whiff of trying-too-hard. It’s “cool” for people to accidentally notice you’re listening to Morton Feldman at work, or to casually mention you’re listening to the perennially-hip Miles Davis while cooking, or to namedrop on a blog. But when you’re developing the “perfect” playlist to push to the news feeds of all your friends, it’s just not interesting anymore. Plus, there’s always the chance of accidentally admitting Mariah Carey is sometimes your jam.
What’s the answer, then, to our ownership dilemma? I think it’s some combination of playlist portability and social media sharing, or possibly just one or the other, but with better execution than previous attempts. I think time will tell.