First up, Billboard reports that online single sales are eclipsing physical single sales. In the latest week, online singles sold 857,000 units, over 170,000 for physical singles. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, given the high cost of physical singles. The fact of the matter is, though, the online sales figure can go much higher.
In the Wired review of the new Napster service:
Despite its flexibility, the service can also be confusing. Some songs in the Napster library can only be streamed, while others are only available for a 99-cent download, even if you’re paying for the streaming service. Which songs fall into each category isn’t clearly spelled out. Some users are liable to think they are signing up for unlimited access to the Napster library, only to find out that some tracks must be purchased separately.
Bingo. People aren’t keen on uncertainty when they’re buying something. When buying CDs, it’s always been clear: you pay the cash, you own the disc. And, more recently, you can conveniently make copies of the disc.
Pressplay and MusicNet were experiments in new ways to distribute music. I’m not exactly sure what made them think that people wanted subscriptions, but they did. The Napster service is based on Pressplay’s technology, so it’s not surprising that they’re offering a subscription option.
Apple’s iTunes Music Store showed how to do it: make the terms, conditions and pricing crystal clear (and reasonable). I don’t think that the current incarnation of ITMS is the final answer, but it was the first viable online music store, because Apple was the first one to really push for what the customers wanted.