Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What's Wrong With Free Music

The rise in premium music services shouldn't surprise me, but it does.  I grew up on AM and FM radio and enjoyed listening to everything from talk to news, pop to Dr. Demento.  In exchange for free music, I also heard ads that ultimately paid for all those stations to air.  Today, a number of these same stations offer commercial-free blocks to entice us to stay connected, but we find ourselves with more and more choices, many requiring a monthly subscription fee.

Sirius and XM Satellite, who later merged, seem to have started this game of offering a premium experience while sitting in your car.  Sirius brought Howard Stern over from free radio and many joined him in his move.  Today, fans of music can pay monthly fees to listen to streaming radio from choices ranging from Spotify and Pandora to Apple Music.  And today's NY Times reminds us that your Amazon Prime subscription includes both a video platform as well as a music platform.  And consumers seem willing to pay for the milk when it is also available free. 

Is it the greater choice, the lack of ads, the portability, the freedom to choose what to play next, the convenience?  They all come to play.  We have switched from carrying a portable transistor radio to carrying our smartphone and technology has played a large role in opening up new competition.  But I still come back to the point of free verse pay.  Commercial radio stations also present themselves online as well, as easily acceptable as any paid app.  The music industry certainly presents itself as a terrific case study in the world of content vs. distribution, free vs. pay.  How it continues to evolve remains to be seen.