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Rhapsody Dumps Subscriptions, Switches to DRM free MP3’s

In a case of even the blind reading the handwriting on the wall, RealPlayer’s Rhapsody has dumped its subscription music service in favor of selling DRM free MP3’s, which is essentially the trend the music industry was inevitably headed toward a year ago, but was no doubt accelerated by Steve Jobs pushing Apple that way. By now of course it should be obvious that the subscription model of music sales is a dead end and that consumers distrust DRM music and video files not only because they dislike restrictions, but because the expiration of a service can also mean the termination of user ability to play the music or video files, as Google Video and MSN Music demonstrated notoriously for us, leaving users who buy DRM protected MP3’s and WMV’s, no better off than their subscription paying brethren.

Rhapsody has never exactly been a major player in the marketplace, a music marketplace that became positively overcrowded with the success of iTunes and the iPod, with any number of services from Yahoo Music to MSN Music to the return of Napster to Rhapsody itself all scurrying to come in last. Thanks to RealPlayer, Rhapsody in theory should have had a shot as the first real fusion of a music service and a popular music player, something Windows Media Player inexplicably botched with the now defunct URGE. However most RealPlayer users had learned long ago to disable and ignore everything extra from RealPlayer thanks to RealNetworks’ notorious message center and willingness to irritate users with constant pop ups and messages.

Rhapsody as an MP3 store is not likely to do significantly better than it did as a subscription music service. RealNetworks’ survival against both Microsoft and Apple all these years has been nothing short of amazing, but that it is no small part thanks to a proprietary file format and a not insignificant number of sites still using RealNetworks servers. The key problem to crack is the iTunes barrier, which has become a dominant media management tool as well. While RealPlayer is decent enough at media management, it has had too high an annoyance factor to do what iTunes does.

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