The Cost of Music

We’ve finally seen some definitive proof (above) that Sirius XM will begin charging for online streaming ($3/mo), Pandora has brought audio advertising into their web player/experience, and Apple, along with their studio partners, is implementing variable track pricing. Obviously, there’s also a sizable contingent of people who feel free to help themselves. In light of this, I’m wondering what folks think is a reasonable cost for music.

These days, I shy away from digital media purchases. I prefer music streaming or rentals (think Zune Pass or Rhapsody). Both Pandora and Slacker offer a free tier of customizable music streaming for the web and mobile devices. I’ve been fine with the periodic audio (and visual) ads – licensing music isn’t free and neither is building out these services, bills must be paid. The Slacker app recently replaced Pandora (and XM) in my car… once I discovered their uncensored comedy feed. Pandora and Slacker offer optional subscriptions ($3 – $4/mo) for ad-free listening. And should I end up stuck with a painful commute, I’d consider pulling the trigger.

What do you use and how much are you willing to pay?

21 thoughts on “The Cost of Music”

  1. I use the online sources such as Pandora and LastFM to some extent. I also have a pretty large music collection on my HTPC server although much of that music is getting a bit dated (just as I am).

    I would probably pay for Pandora if I could avoid the commercials as long as it was a small fee and Pandora somehow gets to my car stereo and HTPC extenders.

    For new music I mostly buy from Amazon MP3. I’m willing to pay $1 per song, but not much more. If there is a song I just love and must have, I’d pay up to $2 for it probably.

  2. Mel Karmazin, CEO of Sirius XM, and his band of merry soldiers are going to cause the demise of satellite radio as we know it. As soon as the ink dried on the merger documents, they began raising fees. Instead of increasing revenue, they are going to accomplish just the opposite. I for one plan to cancel the service on both of my units, and I bet many more subscribers will too. Thank god for internet radio!

  3. I subscribe to Pandora, and Rhapsody. I listen to them all (at home while I work) using I also have a very large mp3 collection from ripped CD’s. Most of the time I use Rhapsody for listening to a particular band or CD. When I am in the mood for someone else to pick the tracks I use Pandora. I mainly use to keep track of what I listen to.

    … as to how much. I’d pay a lot more than I now pay for these services (I pay for all of them at the yearly rate). I think they are dirt cheap.

  4. “…What do you use and how much are you willing to pay?”

    I was Napster user number 31 waaaay back in the day and just recently stop using BitTorrent – so obviously I am accustom to paying zero.

    But that all changed recently after I started using amazon. No DRM, pick just one song, costs a few cents…drink enough Pepsi and its back to zero. I wonder if I am the minority, but amazon is “good enough” for music AND movies.

    Slacker, Zune even the elegant iPod touch all make me sick to my stomach with the proprietary hardware. Even the pure software services turn me off since I cannot pick and choose what I want and forced to pay for the “privilege” of listening to some Marketing executives RIAA negotiated play list. Yuk.

    Clock is ticking on this whole artificially-insert-yourself-between-me-and-the-artist-and-extract-a-fee-to-justify-your-worthlessness dinosaur media…

    Trent Reznor and Radiohead make music and sell it directly to me, you are not even part of the equation at all. Hmmmmmmmm…

  5. David, And the weird thing is he pledged to the FCC to not raise rates for 3 years. Was that limited to existing customers? Is stripping features (like online music) and charging to add them back different than raising rates? It’s all sketchy and emphasizes to me the economic challenges they’re facing.

    Jim, I’m be willing to pay more than I do now for the right service. If Rhapsody landed on the iPhone or Apple offered a similar service, I’d go for it. Also, if Sonos ever offers a boombox-esque device I’d go with them – as we also have a large collection of ripped CDs, in addition to the online services I use (or want to use).

    Todd, I recently moved from buying the occasional album or tracks on iTunes to Amazon – exactly because they are DRM-free. (And they have sales!) Now that Apple’s doing the same with iTunes, I may just go back. We’ll see.

  6. Dave,
    Clearly I’m biased as I work for Real (Rhapsody) but I, too, prefer a combo of services. I use Rhapsody as my primary service at work and through my Sonos at home. Even if I didn’t work here, I’d still use Rhapsody. For the price of one CD, the library is awesome. I also continue to purchase CDs, as I’m a big fan of complete albums and, until very recently, had no way to get music in my car any other way. On my iPhone I use my ripped CDs into iTunes and Pandora. I also want to point out that I enjoy using different services, as the experiences all vary greatly, and I find it fun. If I had to name an actual price, I’d say I’d pay $50 a month for music, if it were all access.

  7. I’m still trying to figure out if I will still have free internet audio from Sirius in the future. I have a lifetime sub for my car, and the Sirius website says that I have free (low-fi) internet audio. I don’t need to “renew” or “extend” my subscription since I have a lifetime subscription. I wouldn’t miss it much if it disappeared, though, thanks to other online options.

  8. David,

    Mel found a loophole in the FCC mandate that he not raise “subscription prices” for 3 years, and he hasn’t. The subscription price still remains $12.95, he is raising the price of additional radios on the subscription. He is also raising the price of the online feed on each subscription. Get it? Subscriptions have not increased, additions to that sub has.

    Sat radio will be bankrupt by the end of the summer.

  9. I’m probably a bit of an outlier.

    I love music, and I’m willing to spend a lot to get it. I spend hundreds of dollars a year on digital music purchases (and a tiny number of physical CDs). I like being able to listen to exactly what I want, whenever I want, and the audio quality of the downloaded files if usually better than what I get from other sources (though in places like the car it isn’t really distinguishable). I expect that I’ll pretty much always buy a lot of music. The $1/track and $10/album price point is in easy “impulse buy” territory, and I’ll usually buy the whole album if I like more than a couple of songs or if it’s an artist I like in general.

    I do also use other services. I have Sirius/XM in both of my cars and at home, and I listen to the stream at work sometimes. I already have the “premium” streaming, so as I understand it my price for that won’t go up (though the price for the two additional radios will). I still like it enough to keep it even at the higher price, though I’m not convinced it’s a good business decision for them. They should be encouraging more people to listen to the online streams, not fewer.

    I listen to Pandora from time to time also. I used to listen to it more, but I find that between my own music and SiriusXM, my bases are fairly covered. If SiriusXM were go go away, I’d probably replace it with Pandora (except in the car, where it’s too much trouble — I’d just plug in my iPod there). I don’t find Pandora to be a perfect replacement for SiriusXM, but it’s better than most of the alternatives (definitely better than terrestrial radio). I’d pay for an ad-free, high quality Pandora stream.

  10. I think the distribution model for XM will kill them. It cost too much to launch a bird to distribute LESS innovative programming than HD Radio, IP Radio or hard copy media do. That said I think there are plenty of people who would pay for an innovative service that is mobile. But since the comparison price is FREE I think you’re looking at a model that should be priced at or under $10/month.

  11. Dave

    I recently got the Griffin Roadtrip working with my iPhone and have been streaming orb live and Slacker to my car radio. It works surprisingly well. I drove from NJ to Boston last week and never dropped a song. Plus when using it local in town works great. I am canceling my Sirius in March when my agreement is up. Only thing I am going to miss is Nascar radio on Sirius. I wish sling would release there player soon and hope it is not wifi only.

  12. I got an annual subscription to Slacker’s service a few months even back when it was even more expensive and I really like it. No real beef with Pandora but Slacker is simpler for, ahem, slackiest of us, lol.

    For purchases, it’s only Amazon MP3 store (FYI, I have no iPods, so I’m not invested in iTunes). But I pretty much never buy anything at full price — daily deals ($1.99-3.99) and weekend deals ($5) are more than enough.

    P.S. Have a premium membership to Imeem but don’t really use it. Too much hassle.

  13. I won’t “buy” music online either I would go with the rental option and buy cds for the stuff I like. I used to use napster to go but now I just listen to podcasts and I can’t see paying for those. There are so many if someone decides to charge I would probably just find a different on to replace it.

  14. I had XM radio as I bought into the mobile MyFi when it came out. Loved it and love the deep tracks that is still going strong as a channel. However I forsee that sat radio will start to sound like clearwater and they may stop paying for all those good channels – some already went on the ash heap. :(
    I can deal with 12 a month as a sub to get a lot of music. Since I am not happy with how they are running the rates I plan to drop XM and use Rhapsody account – just have to program the music myself.+

  15. XM subscriber back when it was 9.95 a month. That didn’t last long and was increased to match Sirius (12.95). I buy my subscription every 3 years so I still get it for less than 10 a month…but I’ll be canceling it before it renews next month due to being laid off last Monday…and not finding real value for it any more after the merger.

    I did just loved the service. Any type of music, anywhere I’m at. Driving from Portland to Seattle, or to Crater Lake, LA, Reno, Vegas while listening to one station (really between my favorite three XMU, Chill, The Rhyme). But post merger my stations now sound like local radio; the talking heads jumping in every two or three songs announcing the artist. WFT!! I can read the screen to know the artist/song. Stupid shows (ie Blog radio). And the channel identifications sound like I am listening to terrestrial radio. I miss the XM tone..

    Any who… Once I cancel my XM I’m not sure what I’ll use for music. If at home I’ll just play what ever station that looks good via my Popcorn Hour. When mobile I’m not sure. Maybe buy an iPod Touch and feed it my collection. If via an Internet feed, my price point free of course but one of the main reasons why I subscribed to SatRad was no commercials. For me that was worth $10 a month alone…so anything less than $10 claims would be awesome.

  16. I love Pandora and Rhapsody. I used to be a big Emusic fan but I have lost interest. Too much work to find good music. I wish Rhapsody had an iPhone app. I guess we will never see that.

    My main struggle is car audio. Are you just using your iphone to stream music to your car? Seems like an awkward solution. I still use CDs most of the time when I am in my car.

  17. Lately, I’ve been purchasing a few ‘deal’ offerings via amazon once in a while. I’ve cancled or let expire all my (music only) subscription services (Sirius, emusic) although I do still have access to XM/Sirius via Directv at home.

    However, we do subscribe/donate to a local music-oriented public radio station out of the Univ of PA – wxpn. There’s a huge spectrum of programming on there, and lots of exclusive content (interviews, shows, guest DJs, etc; much of it archived online). They host tons of shows locally and regionally, and promote lots of underappriciated and under-marketed musicians. You can try it online – – and their flagship show – The World Cafe – is broadcast by stations around the world. I guess if we’re going to spend money, I feel good about where it’s going when it goes to XPN.

    Satellite radio has definitely lost its edge, and I don’t know what they can do to make their service more compelling.

    One thing that jumps out at me about Sirius adding a fee for any and all online streaming is what about Netflix? Will Netflix add a fee for streaming?

  18. for me. I loved Amazon for the 2 weeks it worked in Canada. I’m looking forward to its return one day. Once Apple has completed its all DRM-free switch, I may consider purchasing from them, them, though the AAC-only format makes me still somewhat leary.

    I’ve always agreed with the record industry on variable pricing. I’m fine with up to $2.00 for a hit I REALLY want, but expect the back library tunes to be REALLY cheap, perhaps as low as 25 cents for really old stuff. So long as the content is DRM free prices should be set by supply and demand.

    But a final switch needs to be made to make the market truly fair to consumers. There still needs to be a way that consumers can truly sell their purchased online content in the after-market, just like they can sell CD’s now, without, of course, retaining a copy of the original. That would require a universal registry of some sort where once Apple/Amazon etc. sell you a song/album, you are the registered owner. Then registered owners should be able to SELL their copy to anyone via eBay etc. It would be a simple system:

    – login
    – see the library of content you own
    – pick the songs you are selling
    – type in the universal ID of the person you have sold to

    presto, the rights have moved. I’d be delighted if future media players enforced that model. That only valid purchasers (or transferees) can play content they purchased on devices they or their family own.

    That would put downward pressure on the price of songs quickly. That’s TRUE supply and demand.

    A fantasy, perhaps, but since we are talking about digital music supplied digtially via the Internet, it would be a pretty straight forward idea to implement from a technology perspective.

  19. I purchased five years of XM for $500 when I bought my new car in 2005. I’ve been very happy with it and actually like the new Sirius lineup. I also stream XM through the house via airfoil on weekends. Using airfoil to avoid additional monthly fee has made me feel like I’m getting a very good value from XM.

    I’d pay for the on-line version but only if I could control via the iphone and stream throughout the house via airfoil/itunes. At least give me an iphone app where I can control system volume via airfoil.

    If they take away the on-line version I’d be peeved and consider canceling and getting a refund. I would probably try to do the iphone/roadtrip thing in the car for longer trips. Not worth getting the iphone out of my pocket for my ten minute commute.

    I’m a fan of itunes but looking at amazon more because of pricing. However, I did have some dowloading issues on amazon and never did get the latest Jack Johnson album I was due for $5.00.

    I’d definitely consider rhapsody but only if could control via airfoil/iphone or if I took a hardware plunge on sonos.

    I’m also a fan of Pandora and stream via airfoil throughout the house when I want to discover a new artist. I also utilize it on the iphone on the treadmill/jogs and also via iphones/logitech portable speaker, especially when on the road. I probably wouldn’t pay more than $1.99 month for it (without commercials) and would stop using if ads became more prominent.

  20. @ MC — Amazon’s download manager hangs on me too sometimes, but their customer support is great. Go to Problems with my order (or something like that), follow links and click Call Me. They’ll call you immediately, ask for your info, give them order # / album name and they will re-enable Download links for that album in your Media Library.

  21. Honestly, I hardly ever listen to music. I mostly listen to podcasts I download for free, and I plug my iPod into my car audio. I still have XM, but only because I forgot to cancel in time to avoid an auto-renewal. I’ll be cancelling in a year if I’m still not using it much.

    When I do listen to music, its generally my own. I have a LOT of CDs ripped, and a certain amount of digital music which never had physical form, all of it in MP3 format. I have it on my iPod classic (where is my 120GB+ iPod touch?) and I have it on my Apple TV.

    I love Pandora, but don’t listen much at work, and none of the devices I own support it. If it were offered on Tivo or Apple TV I would probably pay for it. Not more than $10 a month though, since I wouldn’t really use it that much. Yes I know I can stream it (with no control) via AirFoil, and I do this sometimes, but I’d rather have direct access. Not willing to buy/hook up another device to get this though.

    How much is an album worth? Like others I probably prefer the variable pricing model. A lot of Albums I already own, and if you want to sell it to me again so I don’t have to go find the CD and rip it, I won’t pay more than a couple of dollars. For a new album from an artist I like, or that I have sampled multiple tracks online, I’m happy to pay $10, and maybe $12 sometimes. I’m not going back to paying $17 for an album ever again though. Sorry, no.

    I really don’t want to have anymore physical media. CDs are a convenient way to buy music, but only because they are high quality and non-DRMed. There’s almost no reason to keep the CD once I rip it at this point. I’m starting to toss the Jewel cases and put the CDs in binders so they take up less space.

    Dale–you must be smoking crack. Non-DRMed music that you can sell? Sorry, just give it up.

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