Fascinating: Model of access to online music continues to evolve

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Model of access to online music continues to evolve

Online music has gone through several phases. The Napster phase was great for users, because it meant you could download whatever you wanted for free and ignore the legality and ethics of the matter.

The iTunes phase brought legal online music purchasing to the masses, but was not much different from buying a physical album; you still had to buy anything you wanted to listen to.

The third phase of online music is subscription. The subscription model enables you to pay a small monthly fee to be able to listen to as much music as you want so long as you keep paying the monthly fee. Services such as Microsoft’s Zune Pass have offered this for a while, but this is the year it seems people finally will begin embracing the subscription model.

The rdio.com music service is available on a wide array of devices.

A screenshot of the Spotify music service.

The first part of the year was dominated by rdio.com’s service. The second half of the year seems poised to be dominated by its competition Spotify.

Spotify has been around for several years, but only in Europe. The company has been trying to secure deals with record labels in the U.S. for years and finally was able to secure the rights to do a proper launch.

Spotify’s killer feature is its base cost: free. The service is ad-supported. So, much as with radio, you have to listen to commercials periodically between the songs you choose. In Europe, the amount of time you can listen to the free service is capped at 20 hours, but the U.S. launch presently is unlimited. I wouldn’t expect that to last forever, but it’s certainly worth taking advantage of it while you still can.

I have been using Spotify as my primary music environment since the launch last week and find it to be an enjoyable alternative to iTunes and rdio, a similar subscription-based music service.

What I like most about Spotify is the desktop client it offers both for Mac OS X and Windows. The Spotify app allows you to search its entire music library, add songs to play lists and even share a song with friends by dragging it onto their name in the sidebar.

Even better, Spotify can play all the existing music already on your computer, so you don’t have to manually add to Spotify’s library any music you already own.

Mobile apps also are available for Android and the iPhone, I tested the iPhone app and found it to be a suitable experience.

The biggest problem with services such as rdio and Spotify on-the-go is relying on 3G service to be reliable enough to support streaming. Both services allow you to download songs locally to your device for offline playback, but that requires a bit of planning ahead and anticipating what you want to listen to before you head out.

Spotify is available in beta right now, but offers instant access for people who sign up for a paid subscription. For $4.99 a month, you get unlimited music playback with no ads. For $9.99 a month you also get mobile access and higher quality audio.

I signed up for the $9.99 a month plan because I am a big fan of sampling new music. For the price of a single album on iTunes, I now can listen to anything I want with just a quick search. It doesn’t get much more compelling than that.

Justin Williams is the owner of Second Gear. You can contact him at justin@secondgearsoftware.com.

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