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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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May 12, 2005

Yahoo! Jumps! Into! Music! Game!

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

(sorry, can't help the exclamation thing.)

When iTunes first debuted I pointed out that Apple missed an opportunity to undercut other services on price. In a way they did offer a cheaper alternative by dropping mandatory subscription fees, but Apple's motto has always been "We'll make it good; someone else will make it cheap." This was true for the Mac, for digital music players, and for online music services.

Now comes Yahoo! Music Unlimited (beta) with the "we're cheaper" philosophy. For a monthly priced USD7 or $5/mo if you sign up for a whole year, you get unlimited streams out of a 1 million+ song catalog. (Brief news coverage here on

Dowloading is also possible, for an additional $.79 per song. The downloads are touted as "burnable" but the site is extremely cagey about formats. My guess is that what they're selling are Windows audio formats because their link for players you can use goes to Windows' "Plays For Sure" page. The iPod question is also a bit confusingly answered. It appears that what they're doing will work with a Windows-linked iPod even though that's not on their list.

The DRM is even more confusing for end users, as you can read the following two sentences only a couple paragraphs apart:
Send a song to other subscribers easily
Yahoo! Music does not permit copying or transferring music files to other users.
Presumably "sending" is different from "copying" or "transferring" but the page doesn't even come close to explaining how. Nor why I should care.

I confess I don't see anything here that I'm willing to try to plow through, even for the admittedly throwaway price of $5/month. I can get free streams now from aggregators like Shoutcast or specialty services like Digitally Imported. And if I'm saving 20 cents per download I'd need to make 25 downloads/month just to break even with iTunes' prices.

So! Much! For! Cheap! Is! Everything!

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies


1. Tim Marman on May 12, 2005 11:19 AM writes...

It will not work with any iPods. This is based on WMP10 / Janus DRM - the same platform that Napster is using.

See this note:

"iPod Users: If you're an iPod user with a Windows-based PC, you can transfer music you already own to an Apple iPod using the Yahoo! Music Engine. Unfortunately, iPods are not currently compatible with the Yahoo! Music Unlimited subscription service."

In other words, it will work as a replacement for loading MP3s onto the iPod, but you cannot use songs purchased from their store (unlimited or not) on the iPod.

Permalink to Comment

2. Derek Slater on May 12, 2005 12:55 PM writes...

Yeah, I'm pretty positive the burning and downloading is not quite as you describe it. For the $5-7/month, you can stream as well as download. The downloads are wrapped in MS-Janus DRM, can only be ported to compatible Janus players, and cannot be burned. You have access to the content for as long you're a subscriber.
The 79 cents if you want to permanently own the song. While that 79 cents get you a song that is wrapped in DRM, that DRM does allow burning to CD, and the content you burn to CD is entirely unencrypted.

Permalink to Comment

3. steve on May 12, 2005 10:19 PM writes...

I wonder how much Yahoo is loosing on the service to get a toe-hold. In talking with people who were familiar with the Napster negotiations there are two possibilities - (a) Yahoo is absorbing a large loss per subscription (and possibly might have to raise prices in the future, or (b) Yahoo got a seriously better deal than Napster.

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4. Ben Marklein on May 13, 2005 12:35 AM writes...

Re: "I can get free streams now from aggregators like Shoutcast"

Not sure if you understand the difference between Shoutcast and an on-demand music service like YMU / Napster / Rhapsody - it's the difference between a radio and a jukebox. With YMU, you can select what you want to play when you want to play it. $6 per month for unlimited streaming access to an enormous collection of music, including most new releases as soon as they're released, is a phenomenal deal. And YMU throws in the ability to take it with you with a Janus-enabled player. Anyone want to buy a used iPod?

Permalink to Comment

5. Goodman on May 13, 2005 11:02 PM writes...

Derek Slater has it right. These music subscriptions are pretty sweet. Imagine that the iTunes Music Store offered a special option for $10 a month, which would replace those 30 second previews with the entire song. You'd be able to listen to pretty much their entire library for no additional charge (beyond the $10 a month). Somebody mentions a CD, and you can click and listen to the whole thing, all nice and legal and within the friendly iTunes interface. Well, Apple doesn't offer that yet, but Rhapsody has for years.

Now maybe sitting at your computer isn't where you like to listen to music, so for an extra $5 a month you can transfer almost everything iTunes has to your iPod, to listen to at will, for as long as you're a member. Fill up a 60 gig iPod legally with whatever you want, changing it as often as you want. Would that be worth an extra $5 a month? Too bad Apple doesn't license their DRM, so nobody can offer that service for iPods (except one day Apple, I hope). But this service IS available today from Napster, Rhapsody and FYE, and is compatible with a small number of players from Creative, Dell, Gateway, etc.

Now, what's cool about Yahoo Music is they offer the same as those other guys, but for $7 a month, rather than $15 a month. Very nice. It's like being able to go nuts in an online music store, without ending up with a big credit card bill at the end of the month. Listen to anything. Listen to everything. Try it all.

Right now I'm a member of FYE and routinely copy a few albums a day to my Dell DJ (more than I will get around to listening to, frankly, but no reason not to download it on a whim). I figure Apple will get on board eventually. I rent DVDs, why shouldn't I be able to rent music as well?

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6. Dr. wex on May 16, 2005 10:48 AM writes...

Clearly this model appeals to some people. And I do understand the difference between "stream this song I want to hear right now" and "stream music that includes lots of songs I want to hear and maybe something I've never heard before." The latter appeals to me much more. If I want to stream stuff I want to hear right now I have my MP3 library. But honestly I mostly put that on shuffle, too.

The number of times I'll go out to hear a specific tune, and then another specific tune and then another (out to the 25/month break-even) - I've never done that. I don't imagine I ever will. So what's the value to me in YMU such that I should pay $5/month, install yet another player, accept more DRM, be limited to one platform, et cetera?

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