By now, it's a tired topic. Subscription-based music sales have failed to satisfy the hype generated several years ago, and companies invested in the format are suffering. A renovated Napster offers the most glaring example of the problematic sector. The company displays only modest levels of subscriber growth despite incredible name recognition and heavy marketing spends. Meanwhile, broader uptake of the format remains between two and three million, depending on the specific estimate.
Theoretically, the subscription format offers everything a music fan could want. Catalog issues have largely been resolved, and that means instant access to massive, multi-million track collections - and even portability options (albeit, non-iPod portability options.) Yet consumers are still sidelined on the concept, despite affordable monthly fees and hassle-free access.
Proponents remain attached to the possibilities, though current uptake suggests a soggy future. Dampening demand is a flood of freely-available content, a situation that is driving the value of music towards zero in the mind of many consumers. "The best subscription is your internet subscription, just ask your kids," proclaimed Gerd Leonhard, author of The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution. "The price to the consumer for digital media is $0."
Others were less pessimistic, though the possibilities are mostly speculative. Jonas Woost, head of Music at Last.fm, pointed to a consumer that mostly prefers content ownership, though the executive also suggested a generation beyond that could shift away from permanent acquisition. "They may be less interested in ownership," Woost surmised, though the long-term possibilities are producing slim profits in the present.