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6/30/2008
10:30 AM
Eric Ogren
Eric Ogren
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Will Rhapsody Deal Vault Verizon's V Cast Toward Success?

I consider myself to be a heavy music consumer. I purchase between two and five CDs worth of music each month. Even though I can download music directly to my iPhone via the iTunes Music Store, I still don't go for mobile music. What's preventing me (and everyone else) from doing so, and will Verizon Wireless's new deal with Rhapsody and Real make a real difference?

I consider myself to be a heavy music consumer. I purchase between two and five CDs worth of music each month. Even though I can download music directly to my iPhone via the iTunes Music Store, I still don't go for mobile music. What's preventing me (and everyone else) from doing so, and will Verizon Wireless's new deal with Rhapsody and Real make a real difference?Verizon Wireless customers now have access to more than 5 million songs through its new deal with RealNetworks' Rhapsody music service. V Cast Music with Rhapsody will, for $15 per month, give V Cast subscribers the ability to download both over the air (OTA) or to their PCs any of Rhapsody's 5 million songs. That's a lot of music to have in your pocket. For those seeking instant gratification when it comes to having the latest single, the power is at hand. The real kicker is, most songs will be free of DRM and can be burned to CDs and played on multiple devices (PCs and phones).

But there's a caveat. OTA downloads still cost $1.99. For that price, you get one version of the song for your phone (ripped at a lower bit-rate to be more phone friendly), plus a full version for your PC. (Sprint already offers two versions from its OTA store for 99 cents). Today's press release from Verizon didn't provide specifics as to what bit rate the full version is ripped at. I would expect a minimum of 128 Kbps, which is what the iTunes Music Store and other download stores use. If you want to download a song from Rhapsody to your PC, and then transfer it to your phone later, you can do that, and it will only cost 99 cents, same as on iTunes.

Basically, that $15-per-month fee gives you access to the bigger library at Rhapsody and DRM-free tracks. Is that worth it? Not if you ask me. Why would I pay $15 for what is, essentially, an "unlocking" fee. I can get DRM-free tracks elsewhere without having to pay $15 to have them unlocked.

But the bigger question is, how many people are performing OTA downloads from music stores, and can expanding the library of available tracks and making them DRM-free really boost the number of downloads? I am not sure it can.

Think about the demographics here. The heaviest users of mobile phones and associated services are those age 15 to 35. The younger half of that demographic has grown up in the post-Napster era, and probably knows how to download music for free. There's no incentive for them to pay for music at all, let alone the premium prices commanded by this new Rhapsody service.

Then there's the older fuddy-duddies like me. I (just barely) squeak into that demographic, but I am simply not turned on by OTA music downloads. Much of this is my personal preference for having DRM-free tracks of the highest quality. But then I think about many of my peers. My music-loving friends are the same way. None of them download music OTA. They prefer to get music the old-fashioned way (buying an actual CD in a store). At the very least, they'll pay for a full download through whichever music service suits them.

Even though I am an Apple user, I don't even use iTunes. I've switched to Amazon's MP3 store for downloading songs over the Internet. Why? Because it offers the best quality (256 Kbps) for the cheapest prices ($8.99 per CD) with no DRM attached. So what if I can't download song OTA? Quality and price are what matter to me. With many (not all) OTA services, you get less quality for a higher price.

Music-industry people and purveyors of mobile music services, I invite you to tell me if/how/why I am wrong. Is this deal really going to spark higher numbers of OTA downloads?

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