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Disposable tunes

Will Australians embrace a subscription-based music download service?

Ella Morton

commentary Australia will get its first subscription-based online music service in April, with Microsoft and Sanity announcing a partnership at Tuesday's Windows Vista launch.

The service operates within Windows Media Player 11, and offers music from Sanity's catalogue via pay-per-track and subscription models. Users opting to subscribe can download up to 300 tracks per month for a flat monthly fee, expected to be around AU$50.

300 songs for the price of two CDs sure sounds enticing, but there are two big catches.

Catch number one: Songs downloaded under the pay-per-month model cannot be burned to CD, and if you end your subscription, the tunes will no longer play on your PC or portable device (the files remain on your computer, and will play again if you re-subscribe).

Catch number two: Own an iPod? You know, that family of players that overwhelmingly dominates the portable music market? Sorry, but the Microsoft file format the songs come in is not compatible with Apple devices.

These two issues may give potential users cause to pause before diving into the downloads, but the limitations are very similar to those exhibited by online music services in the US, such as Microsoft's Urge. Formed in a partnership with MTV, Urge shares the Sanity service's Windows Media Player integration, and offers a number of pay-per-month plans, with music files becoming unplayable if subscription ceases.

The subscription model, with all its caveats, is a successful method of online music delivery in the United States, but will it take off here in Oz? Comparatively slow Internet connection speeds may have prevented users from taking advantage of the 300-song per month maximum in the past, but with broadband uptake soaring, now seems an apt time to launch a pay-per-month offering.

For proudly fickle Gen Y music lovers, who go crazy for a band one month and are sick of them the next, losing tunes when you unsubscribe may not be such a big deal. But for those who get pleasure and a rush of fuzzy nostalgia from rediscovering long-forgotten tracks, I'd wager the disposable music approach won't appeal at all.

What do you think about subscription-based music services? Are you bothered by the fact that you lose your music if you unsubscribe? Let us know your thoughts below or at cnet@cnet.com.au