All the music you can eat?

It’s reported in the Financial Times[1] that Apple are having discussions with the music business droids about introducing an unlimited music subscription service. Now this could be a Napster-style monthly fee kind of thing (which I’d be prepared to pay around £10-£15 a month without pausing to think about it[3]), but it’s reported that the preferred option involves paying a higher price for an iPod (or iPhone, presumably) and in return getting unlimited access to the iTunes library for the life of that device. Now that could be interesting. Apparently, Apple’s research suggests that customers would be happy with a $100 premium on the price of a device to get unlimited music. Even if that translated to £100 over here in the usual way that exchange rates are worked out[4], I’d be tempted. Well, no. That’s not true. If an 8GB iPod Nano (or whatever size is available if and when this starts) cost £230 including unlimited music downloads, I’d call it a bargain. And if you keep a device for a couple of years, then buy a shiny new better one, you just continue to have unlimited access to all the music you want. It’s even suggested that unlike other subscription services I know of, you’d get to keep some tracks even after your subscription has lapsed or your iPod has died.

This sounds like a win-win situation to me – the music business gets a chunk of money from each iPod purchase, customers get unlimited access to legal downloads and more than likely listen to music they might never have got round to otherwise, and Apple get to sell more toys. As far as I can see, all it comes down to is how much money Apple have to pay the music companies, and how that translates into retail prices. Get those numbers right, and everyone will be more or less happy.

Long-time readers might recall that I’ve been using the Napster service for a few years, but as that’s Windows-only, I’m not using it much these days.[5] I tend to download albums there to preview them before deciding if I want to buy the CD or a download from iTunes. I should probably drop the subscription, but since that involves having to phone people, I’d rather not bother right now.

Of course, it would be nice if existing iPod owners could buy an upgrade, but as Apple’s business model does seem to depend on people buying new ones moderately frequently, I’m not holding my breath for that.

[1] Generally regarded as a reliable source[2]
[2] Note: if you’ve read enough articles there already, you may need to register to see the full text
[3] Say a typical album costs around £8, and in most months there are at least two or three I want. On average, I’d be better off with a monthly payment of up to £20 or so.
[4] Apple hardware tends to be around 25% more expensive in the UK than the US…
[5] It does work on the virtual windows PC I have running on the Mac, but I don’t often bother…