As music companies struggle with what appears to be a declining market, one of the models being pursued — with some enthusiasm it seems — is the idea of streaming music.

Under such a system, instead of buying CDs or downloading songs from iTunes or wherever, you would instead subscribe to a music streaming service in a similar way to which some people subscribed to cable/satellite television.

Thus for $x per month, you would have access to whatever music the subscription service was offering.

This model is about to be put to the test in Australia (link via @shaunc):

From October, families will be able to pay about $10 a month to access thousands of favourite tunes via the internet.

“It’s about to become a service, a commodity like water where it is piped into your home,” said Phil Tripp, a music industry expert from Sydney.

Just as people subscribe to pay TV, this would be “pay music”, with Australia’s major music labels including Sony Music, Universal Music, EMI and Warner Music banding together to create a subscription service. Instead of paying for a single song or downloading an album, consumers will have legal access to a full database of songs – for one monthly payment.

All the songs will be streamed via the internet, rather than downloaded to keep.

I’m genuinely curious as to what people think of this.  The general manager of digital and brand development at Sony Music is quoted as saying that downloading music is “enough” for many people, but I seriously wonder if that is true.

I must admit, I hate the idea of streaming and don’t see it as comparable to subscribing to television stations.

Two main points: one, with music (and to some extent movies and TV series), I like to have the cover, the package, to have to hold, or at the very least, the sense of ownership that comes with having the file stored on my hard drive. Paying money on an ongoing (monthly) basis for music and having nothing to show for it except access doesn’t really appeal. This might be irrational, but there you go.

The second point is that I really hate subscriptions services in general anyway. I mean I use them (cable TV, eMusic) but I’m never happy about signing up to something and paying out money on regular basis. Some months you get your money’s worth, but too often it just feels like you are making a donation to some disembodied entity for too little return.

With music, I much prefer the idea of just going to a shop/website and buying the song/album if and when I want it, rather than coughing up a regular, ongoing, contractually obligated fee for a service that I might use a lot one month and barely at all the next.

So I don’t know. For me, such as service doesn’t appeal, but maybe most other people have a different take?

UPDATE: Some interesting comments. Also, note this comment from the original article:

Sony Music will operate the $9.99-a-month subscription site on www.bandit.fm on behalf of the four major labels, which means customers will have access to potentially hundreds of thousands of tunes.

As a reader points out in an email, another way of putting that is that the streaming service will not be offering any music from independent labels or artists and therefore subscribers will be denied access to potentially hundreds of thousands of tunes.

So how will it work? If I want to stream music from other than the “four major labels” I will have to find another streaming service, pay another monthly fee?

It’s not an insurmountable problem, but for other than the mainest of mainstream music listeners, it is a problem.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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