Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Rhapsody Bundles Music With MetroPCS, Forgets to Include a Discount

Music subscription services have been around forever, but have never really caught on. Services like Rhapsody, MOG, Napster and Rdio have had a hard time persuading many people to shell out a monthly fee to “rent” an unlimited amount of tunes: Most people who pay for music do it a track at a time, via Apple’s iTunes.

Today there’s a lot of hope that Spotify’s buzz/marketing will help make subscriptions mainstream. But if these things are ever really going to work, subscription services are probably going to need help, by attaching themselves to services that consumers are already using/paying for.

That’s what Rhapsody is trying today, by bundling itself along with wireless carrier MetroPCS via a $60 package that gives you all-you-can eat data and music. As Billboard notes, Rhapsody also has deals with Verizon and AT&T, but this is a deep integration that puts the service offering front and center for MetroPCS’s 9 million customers.

That said, I’m still not sure how compelling the offer will be, since it doesn’t appear to offer any discount to Rhapsody’s standalone $10 a month service: Beyond the music service, the differences between a $50 a month MetroPCS plan and a $60 a month MetroPCS plan seem to be limited at best.

And if you pay for Rhapsody on your own, you won’t be limited to Android phones, as you are with the MetroPCS deal.

[UPDATE: Rhapsody takes issue with my assertion that the MetroPCS bundle doesn’t amount to a discount on Rhapsody’s $10 a month a la carte price. I spent some time going back and forth with a Rhapsody PR executive over the issue this afternoon, and in the end, we’re going to end up agreeing to disagree.

They point out that MetroPCS 4G users who pay $60 for a bundle that includes Rhapsody also get goodies like unlimited multimedia streaming, while $50 4G users who don’t get Rhapsody are capped at 1 gig per month. The distinctions between the $50 and $60 3G plans are slighter, as I noted above. Again, you can try to decipher it for yourself via MetroPCS’ pricing grid. But in the end, as I argue below, I don’t think the bundle represents a serious discount, and certainly not one that will register with most consumers.]

[UPDATE TWO: As CNET points out, Warner Music Group, one of the four major music labels, has not signed on for this version of Rhapsody, which means any notion of a discount is officially silly, since MetroPCS bundle-buyers will be getting a service with major holes.]

If you really want to move the needle, I think that carriers or cable companies or someone will have to be willing to absorb some of the costs and offer subscription music at a substantial discount to the now-standard $10 a month price point. Any takers?

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work