Commentary: Waxing Rhapsodic

Why I gave up iTunes for RealNetworks' service

O.K., shoot me. I prefer my music subscription to iTunes. Thanks to RealNetworks' (RNWK) Rhapsody service, I'm enjoying a personal renaissance in my listening life. Here's why:

Boundless variety: After spending a few hundred bucks on iTunes and ripping my 500 or so CDs to Apple's program a year ago, I discovered something awful—I was sick of my music. With Rhapsody, that's all changed. I check out long-forgotten albums from the Boss to Beethoven. I routinely discover new favorites, such as Gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. I enjoy weekly instances of musical serendipity—say, drawing giggles from my kids after running into the '70s classic Free to Be You and Me.

The price: Steve Jobs says subscriptions are too expensive for most people. But I'm pretty much "most people"—my tastes run to classic rock, classic jazz, and classic classical—and I think it's a killer deal. Sure, the $180 a year is more than I would spend on CDs. But I'm getting far more for my money. Whether I'm playing "remember that song?" with the neighbors or dancing with my kids to some kitschy Hanukkah song I'd never have found on my own, it's simply a better way to enjoy music. Best of all, the more music I listen to, the better the deal.

Ownership is overrated: In fact, I'd say it's irrelevant, even a burden. Remember those 500 CDs? They disappeared from my iTunes library after a botched transfer to a new PC this summer, and I'm not lugging them out of the attic to spend countless hours re-ripping them. I also lost some of the songs I had purchased on iTunes. (Apple's (AAPL) licensing deals with the copyright holders had changed, so it couldn't resend them.) So how did ownership help me? With Rhapsody, all of this music and much more is a few clicks away.

Rhapsody isn't perfect. I frequently lose the connection and have to reboot. The compatible music players aren't as nifty as iPods; nor is loading them with music as easy. And should I decide to dump Rhapsody, I'd be left with nothing. But if the advantages of the subscription model are as great as I think they are, I'm sure others will emerge that are even better and cheaper than Rhapsody—probably from Apple itself. I hope so.

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