It seems like a week doesn’t go by without new proposals for streaming music services — some real, some imagined. Most services position themselves to be more convenient than digital downloads. Few promise better quality than CD audio. Therein lies the problem with listener-paid business models, a simple truth from the software industry that should be heeded.
When I got into the commercial software business, titles were delivered in boxes containing install discs accompanied by paper user manuals. From there it became commonplace to purchase a license key to download software and soft-copy documentation. It remains to be seen whether full-feature software can now be accessed solely through the cloud.
The analogy to music is obvious. The industry has progressed from physical media to digital downloads to the promise of streaming services that make music ownership irrelevant.
A concept the (3D design) software industry embraced, that the music industry still struggles with, is that there is a difference between modeling and having read-only online access to a model. Modeling is scarce and high-value; access is infinite and low-value. Model creation requires full-feature software; access requires only reader/viewer apps. The latter provide low-res representations where complex curved surfaces are approximated by triangular facets suitable for cloud streaming. These so-called tessellated models may look OK for casual viewing (so you can tell you are looking at the right model) but aren’t nearly accurate enough for even simple measurements.
Again, the analogy to music is obvious. Low-resolution streaming services are fine for social interaction and music discovery, but not nearly accurate enough for full-fidelity listening enjoyment.
So, if MP3-quality streaming services are the equivalent of reader/viewer apps, here’s the 11th simple truth for a delusional music industry, courtesy of the software industry. There is no sustainable business model based on payment for low-res read-only online access. The reader app is always free.
[About the author. Consumer Electronics and Software industry veteran Tom Dennehy publishes the online journal Surface to Air, triangulating among ideas and events at the intersection of the analog music past and the digital future. Follow him on Twitter @InAurem_a2d.]