pressplay is a premier on-demand music service that will change the way you discover music. For a low monthly fee, you can search, browse, and instantly listen (via streaming) to full-length songs of your choice from your favorite artists while you are connected to the Internet. The pressplay service also lets you download high quality music files to your computer, and play them as much as you want as long as your membership is active. In addition, you can make your own compilations, or playlists, and you can even burn your favorite tracks to a CD.

I just received an email from the online music venture founded by Sony, Universal and EMI, plus a handful of independent labels. I was invited to have a 14 day free trial. I’m not going to bother.

While I’m glad that the service has finally launched (it had been scheduled for last summer), it is quite astonishingly unappealing.

First, here is the pricing:

  • Gold: $19.95 per month for 750 streams, 75 downloads and 15 burns.
  • Basic: $9.95 per month for 300 streams and 30 downloads.
  • Silver: Special Limited Time Offer – $9.95 per month for the first 3 months.

    $14.95 per month every month thereafter for 500 streams; 50 downloads and 10 burns.

  • Platinum: $24.95 per month for 1,000 streams, 100 downloads and 20 burns.

Sounds great, eh! Yeah, you can pay $25 per month, and still only have the right to make a CD with 20 tracks, and only be able to download 100 tracks for offline listening. It gets worse. You are only allowed to burn a maximum of 2 tracks per artist, and your downloads must be encoded in a proprietary format that is only playable on the pressplay software, because they apparently deactivate and disappear if you stop paying your monthly subscription,

This notion of ‘subscribing’ to music, rather than being able to do whatever you want with it is pressplay’s main departure from the way I (and most other people) have enjoyed music in the past. And I honestly don’t think people are going to buy it.

The site’s FAQ frequently betrays the lameness of what is on offer. The volume of ‘tracks to burn’ on offer is so paltry that it was clearly a concession, an afterthought. They also pepper the promotional materials with meaningless statements like this:

With up to 2 tracks from each of your favorite artists per month, and thousands of artists to choose from, you can be sure that your pressplay CDs are going to reflect your individual taste.

I am clearly not part of pressplay’s core target audience. If I hadn’t guessed this already, it would have been confirmed to me by the fact that I don’t recognize any of the six artists pictured on their home page (wait, the fourth one in could be JayZ; the rest I have no idea about). However, I doubt if _any_ audience really exists for what they are offering. Even the most expensive plans focus on ‘streams’, but do most people really like to listen the music they get over the internet while sitting at their computer with headphones? If so, there are still hundreds of free radio stations offering this for free. So pressplay is offering, at a price, the chance to hand-pick songs for a ‘personal’ radio station. But this still doesn’t make any sense – if someone doesn’t already have a song on CD or vinyl, are they really likely to want to pay to listen to the song at their computer, but not actually be able to do anything else with it?

• What is the alternative to this ridiculous-seeming project (which apparently took a great deal of time and money to develop)—what should the major record companies have done instead of pissing their money away?

In my experience, the desire to ‘own’ the music never went away – I’m talking not just about 45s and LPs and CDs, but cassette recordings of songs, songs taped from the radio, mp3s…Ok, as you can tell, I’m a big hoarder of music. But I expect that to a certain extent, this desire is present in everyone, or at least everyone interested enough to be downloading music.

Therefore, my suggestion is that the record companies sell mp3 files.

Yes, regular mp3 files —they can add a ‘copyrighted’ tag if neccessary, but hey, at the end of the day, when you send stuff out into the world, there’s very little you can do to control what happens to it afterwards.

Yes, people will abuse the system, and people will freely distribute paid or copyrighted mp3 files. But they do that now anyway, and for years have been doing the same with CDs and other audio. The only way to combat this is to offer what things like audiogalaxy and napster offer, but do it better (as an aside, it might have been a good idea to start doing this about three years ago). The record companies have the resources to do this. Furthermore, the record companies have the master tapes of rare recordings, and the means to offer perfect recordings of every available track. On a personal level, if what pressplay (or musicnet, or whatever) was offering was HALF as good as napster or audiogalaxy, then I would pay (a reasonable amount, like $1 or $2 per song). Right now, what they are offering is just insulting people’s intelligence. If the major labels are hurt by the free distribution of copyrighted music, I understand, but they are going to have to do a lot better than this.

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