So, this is pretty interesting: Clive Thompson has a new column up about the online music service called Rhapsody.
For iTunes, as you may know, you pay $0.99 and get a music file that you can play or burn onto a CD. Rhapsody’s different: According to Clive, $10 a month gets you access to the service’s entire library of music — but you don’t get any of the files. You just get the music, streamed to your speakers.
This reminds me of the excellent book “Natural Capitalism” which argued that we ought to get more goods as services instead of products. Example: Light bulbs. Does anybody want a light bulb? Does the product itself deliver any satisfation? No — clearly, it’s household illumination services that we’re after. But to get them we must purchase fungly light bulbs.
So wouldn’t it be interesting, the book suggests, if instead of peddling bulbs, General Electric sold lighting services for some small annual fee. It’d cost the same as a year’s supply of bulbs, and we’d get the same ultimate product: Light. But now, absent the need to maximize bulb sales, it’d be in G.E.‘s interest to aggressively innovate super-efficient light technology — ’cause then it would cost them less to provide the service, and they could take the difference as profit. (Thus, “Natural Capitalism,” in which good business is aligned with good environmental values.)
Interface, a commercial carpet company, is in fact moving towards selling interior comfort services, not carpet. They have lots of info at their sustainability site. And apparently it hasn’t totally ruined the company or anything.
It’s interesting to extend this model to music. What is it we really want? Well, if it’s merely personal audio entertainment services, then Rhapsody is a great idea. Rhapsody is in the business of providing music, not selling tracks, so it can behave differently, right? It can spend its research dollars on faster, smoother, cooler music-playing technology instead of elaborate copy-protection schemes. Excellent.
But, not every commercial activity fits the “Natural Capitalism” service model. Think of automobiles: Yeah, we want transportation services; but many of us also want a car. The product-ness of it — having it in the driveway, having your junk in the back seat — is important.
So is music more like carpet or more like a car? For me, it’s probably carpet. I think I could groove on Rhapsody, as I a) am musically clueless, and b) score no points with anyone for having cool music.
In general, though, I suspect it’s more like a car: People want sounds to listen to, yeah, but they also want to own music — music as cultural signifier, music as collection. Music in the driveway. (Although, as Clive points out, with iTunes and its ilk you “own” your music in a somewhat more limited sense than you did with CDs and tapes.)
Anyway, how about you? Car or carpet?
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