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Music And Media Subscription Model

DRM has rightly had a bad year as consumers have been faced with iTunes songs not working on any other mp3 player, and even interoperability issues between Napster and Yahoo Music’s Microsoft developed PlayForSure DRM and Microsoft’s own Zune player. Annoying to say the least. Even iTunes sales have collapsed in contrast to emusic’s DRM free growth with their limited subscription model and the continued growth of file sharing. With this in mind, a subscription of file sharing could be useful where users play a flat fee per month and the money is distributed on which songs are played most rather than downloaded. This is to be offered as an alternative to emusic’s model, and not a replacement of such a popular distribution model.

Privacy Issues

The problem with subscription models where files are shared and not downloaded from a central server is how to track who has downloaded what content and how the subscription money would be distributed between the content creators and providers. The automatic tracking of consumers’ activities makes many peopled awkward as they don’t want big brother knowing what they listen to.

A way to get around this problem is to make tracking part of the media player and not the music itself. Media player software such as iTunes already counts how many times each song is played to let users create smart playlists from their favourite songs. This information could be optionally sent to a central server every month with the users’ subscription money automatically split between the artists they have listened to that month with artists they listen to most getting the biggest cut. This way of money distribution prevents the large media companies from getting the lion’s share of the subscription money from users which more often listen to music from independent labels. It also doesn’t limit the growth of new labels or bands promoting themselves, which is good for new music.

As the uploading of personal play data is optional, only those which don’t want big brother to know what they are listening to (or don’t have an internet connection) would most likely not share this data. For the users for which privacy is an issue, their subscription money would be distributed to an average of all the other users, and so most likely amongst the big labels. Therefore there would be option within the media players to automatically share play data every month, to ask permission to share data each time, or to not share play data. This data could be quite easily handled in a small XML file, and data could not be uploaded anonymously, as it would have to be linked to a subscription, which could be a credit or debit card or even paypal or a direct debit, and an IP address.


This subscription plugin should be relatively easy to implment in media players and be open source. However, there would need to be official licenses for media players to keep the subscriptions organised, but such a license would be free. Being an open source plugin using and open xml standard for data sharing, it should be relatively simple to implement on different operating systems from Apple, Microsoft or Linux.

Media Formats

Formats would have to be DRM free, although this does not mean that Apple’s AAC and Microsoft’s WMA songs could not be shared. Indeed, they can be created without DRM (as is done on AllofMP3), as long as the song meta data (such as Artist, song name and album name) are readable. Nonetheless, MP3 is likely to remain popular and the open source Ogg Vorbis compression should become more popular. Lossless formats (such asFlac) would likely also become more popular, and they do not need to cost any more to the consumer than a lossy compressed file, as the files are shared by users making distribution costs close to zero for the media company or record label.

Sharing user accounts or IP Tracking

As the music would be DRM free, and users can keep the music they downloaded there needs to be some way to stop non-paying users from just downloading the music for free. To do this there would need to be a way to be able to find out if a user has a subscription or not, which could be implemented in a few ways.

One method would be for file sharing to become less anonymous, so user subscription accounts come with a file sharing account, and only letting those with an account onto a particular file sharing network. This network would then not need to be monitored, and sharing could continue without problems as only autorized users would have access to the network.

Another method would be to attribute an IP address to a subscription account (this could even be done by including such a subscription with a consumer’s monthly broadband bill from their ISP). This could be slightly more difficult to implement as all file sharing networks would have to be constantly scanned with non-paying users (e. from non subscription IP addresses) would be prosecuted, whilst those with subscriptions could share and download without any problems. This method does have a problem as some ISPs don’t offer dedicated IP addresses, but either ISPs could start to offer dedicated IPs or subscriptions could automatically update an nonline database with the current IP address that that consumer is on.

Costs and Discounts

As the distribution costs for media companies would only be low of users not only download but share their files as well, so discounts could be offered to users that share their whole library. With such low distribution costs, a $10/month subscription cost should keep media companies with a decent profit (Yahoo Music is $9/month now), with a discount for users paying yearly (down to $8/month) and further discounts for users which share their whole libraries ($8/month or for those paying yearly $60/year).

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