Can The Music Industry Convince You To Rent Your Music?

The music industry is questioning its relationship with Apple and is looking for alternative business models. According to a Businessweek report, a strong contender in their vision for the future of commercial music is the idea of turning music into an all-you-can-eat service, Total Music, that would cost about $5.00/month, but would be rolled into your mobile phone service plan.

While the details are in flux, insiders say Morris & Co. have an intriguing business model: get hardware makers or cell carriers to absorb the cost of a roughly $5-per-month subscription fee so consumers get a device with all-you-can-eat music that’s essentially free. Music companies would collect the subscription fee, while hardware makers theoretically would move many more players. “Doug is doing the right thing taking on Steve Jobs,” says ex-MCA Records Chairman Irving Azoff, whose Azoff Music Management Group represents the Eagles, Journey, Christina Aguilera, and others. “The artists are behind him.”

With the Total Music service, Morris and his allies are trying to hit reset on how digital music is consumed. In essence, Morris & Co. are telling consumers that music is a utility to which they are entitled, like water or gas. Buy one of the Total Music devices, and you’ve got it all. Ironically, the plan takes Jobs’ basic strategy– getting people to pay a few hundred bucks for a music player but a measly 99 cents for the music that gives it value–and pushes it to its extreme. After all, the Total Music subscriber pays only for the device–and never shells out a penny for the music. “You know that it’s there, and it costs something,” says one tech company executive who has seen Morris’ presentation. “But you never write a check for it.”

Music services have come and gone, with none leaving much of an impression. One of the reasons, though, is that the industry was asking music fans to pay a relatively high cost for the service, make them think about managing it, and then leaving them with nothing if they cancel the service. Total Music hides the cost of the service, which could make it more appealing to users. It remains to be seen whether or not the service will get rid of usability problems and turn users on to the idea of renting music.

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