Thursday, November 20, 2008

Zune: your subscription is also a purchase

The price cut might have looked kind of desperate, but the attempt to raise interest in the Zune subscription by allowing some songs to be kept 'forever' is a much more interesting move by Microsoft.

I'm not entirely convinced, though, that the idea will work. Buying songs to keep forever is simple to explain. Renting songs you can listen to while you keep your subscription current is a clear proposition. Renting all the songs to listen to while you keep your subscription current, except for ten each month which you can keep even after your subscription lapses might be innovative, but it isn't easy to understand and will probably do as much harm as good - it stresses "most of your music will vanish if you stop paying" as much as "a handful of songs are yours forever".

Then there's the vexed question of how you actually keep the songs forever - ten a month from your bucket of songs introduces an admin task every four weeks. The Terms and Conditions explains:

You will also receive song credits for up to ten (10) downloads of audio sound recordings from Zune Marketplace during each month of your Zune Pass subscription, at no additional cost to you. Content purchased with these song credits may be used under the terms listed above in Section 14.1 and will not expire when your subscription ends. These song credits are non-transferable. Any unredeemed song credits will expire at the end of each monthly period and will not rollover to subsequent monthly periods.

It's not entirely clear from that if you have to buy with special magic credits at the outset, or if you can apply the credit to a tune you have already downloaded under your usual subscription, or if you have to go to the store and re-download the track all over again, this time with the golden pass.

PaidContent's Staci Kramer - who is a happy Zune user - wasn't any clearer:
Signing into Zune just now required accepting a new terms of service in an unnecessarily complicated multi-screen process. So far, I can't tell how I would know this option is supposed to be available—and I can't figure out how to make it work. For instance, when I add a song to the cart, then look at the cart, it's empty. Another variation brings up an error message. I'll try again in the morning.

A difficult sell with a complicated process attached? It's the great smell of Microsoft. Still, at least they're trying to fix the fundamental flaw of subscription services - why pay for something you can never own?