Like a whole lot of people who care about music and the Net, I read the recent Times Magazine piece The Music Man, about how Rick Rubin is trying to save a big piece of the Music-Biz-That-Was, in part by (gasp!) increasing product quality. He also talks about moving from away from a ship-the-disks model to a subscription-based business (this starts about halfway down page 5 of the piece). John Gruber scoffs at the idea. I think they’re both wrong; but that subscriptions will be a big deal.
Rubin envisions a model where you subscribe to the whole universe of music for say $20/month, and all the labels have to agree on how to carve up the business. John argues that this would imply DRM, because you could sign up for a month, download everything, unsubscribe, and (although John doesn’t suggest this) publish it on a server in Russia.
That’s a straw man, though, because Rubin’s idea almost entirely misses the mark. I don’t want to subscribe to the universe, I want to subscribe to a few individual artists, and maybe a particular DJ’s selections, or maybe an affinity group.
And given that, there’s the possibility for spending less money on music (little enough that it’s just not worthwhile stealing) while routing more to the artists. I wrote this up at length in my late-2005 piece On Selling Art, and I haven’t seen anything since then to make me change my mind.