RealNetworks unveiled a new version of its Rhapsody service for music. Here’s an article about the launch. Rhapsody has been marginally successful in its basic incarnation, which is still offered – for ten bucks a month, you can stream audio from a reasonably large library of songs. The quality of the streaming audio is pretty good and the software is reportedly stable, so it’s not a bad deal if you frequently sit at a computer listening to music. There are no files on your computer to take somewhere else or load on a portable device, so it’s more like the rough equivalent of a radio station where you choose the music.
A new fifteen dollar per month package from Rhapsody is similar to the revamped Napster. You download files to your computer and you have a limited ability to carry them around, primarily by loading them onto a portable device – if and only if you have one of the portables that respects Microsoft’s digital rights management scheme. There are currently only a handful of portables that qualify – and the iPod is definitely not one of them. If you stop paying, the tunes stop playing.
As with Napster, that’s not a bad deal if you think of it as a highly customizable radio station. You don’t own anything, but you do get to listen to a lot of songs in a fairly convenient way as long as you pay the monthly fee.
It’s hard to forget that RealNetworks has earned a reputation as one of the worst software developers in the world. RealPlayer went from bad to worse to worst with its bugs and blinking icons and concealed checkmarks and the rest. Trusting a service from RealNetworks is hard to imagine, and the thought of installing their software makes me shiver.
And there’s one aspect of the advertising for the new Rhapsody service that’s misleading. You can sign up for a “free” account and get “25 full-length songs per month – FREE!” Doesn’t that make you think you can download 25 songs from the Rhapsody library and listen to them? Over time, you could assemble a pretty good library, right?
No, no, no. The “free” service allows 25 “song plays” per month. If you listen to one song 25 times, or listen once all the way through 2 CDs, you’re done for the month.
That’s not a big deal, but their advertising pitch seems intentionally ambiguous. Why not be more up front about it?