I remember when Microsoft launched it’s “Keep 10” initiative to try to bring new life into the subscription service offering Zune Music Pass subscribers the opportunity to keep ten free tracks for the same $14.99 a month. It was steal when Microsoft launched it, unlimited music for $14.99 with the ability to download tracks for later and keep them on your device was about as great as we could have hoped for. Then a few things happened. First Microsoft sat on Zune Music Pass, making no changes to the service and completely ditching any relevant marketing efforts that might have helped the service catch on. Then everyone and their uncle decided that they had an idea to save the music industry including rival services from Rdio, Spotify, to go along with older services like Napster, and Rhapsody. What was the result? Zune’s Music Pass is no longer makes sense and is thus not a competitive alternative for most listeners.

Let’s start with Rdio, who recently changed their pricing scheme. For $5 a month you can stream all the music you want through a computer or one of their mobile apps for Windows Phone, BlackBerry and Android. In addition they now offer family plans with two additional accounts for $17.99 a month or three additional accounts for $22.99 per month. Sure that family plan isn’t all the compelling when you get down to it since a Zune Music Pass can be used on three different devices as well as on three PCs or the web from Zune.net

New U.S. comer Spotify takes the music subscription service and a slightly different direction allowing users to stream millions of tracks instantly for $9.99, $4.99, and for free. That free price gets you access to a steady stream of ad-supported music. With their mid-tier plan users get access to organize their own music collection, access to Spotifiy Social (Zune Social by any other name) and use their “Artists Radio” feature. (Essentially SmartDJ). On the high end of things you get access to all the previously mentioned features plus the ability to play local files on your device, stream music to your device, and offline mode for when you and your computer or mobile phone hit the road and don’t have access to the internet.

Meanwhile Napster and Rhapsody pretty much hold down the house of the old guard. For $4.17 a month (Really marketing guys, really?) You can get access to, what Napster calls “the largest streaming music catalog available”, with no ads, the ability to listen on any computer, the ability to listen via home theater equipment (think TVs and such). For an even $8 you can listen on a mobile device as well and save music for when you aren’t near a connection. Rhapsody offers two plans. Rhapsody “Premier Plus” allows you to download music to three mobile devices via an app for $14.95 as well as listen on your pc or through audio systems and Visio televisions. Rhapsody “Premier” allows you stream music to just one mobile device for $10.95 a month.

Now that I’ve finished throwing every possible music service’s pricing structure at you; I’ll get to the point. Zune users pay $14.95 for the ability to download or stream 9 million or so tracks directly to their devices as long as that device happens to be made by Microsoft. That’s right; nearly the industry’s highest price for the ability to stream to a smaller range of devices than everyone else. That being said it’s more likely that a potential Zune Pass user will own a Windows PC, which is great since they’ll be able to download the greatest music software in existence; the Zune software client. It’s a great way to experience the service except that if you buy a Zune Pass to only use on one PC you’re paying more than you would from Spotify, Rhapsody, or Napster. Even that “Keep 10” has a gotcha. If I forget to redeem those credits then they are gone, never to be used to download that “Glee: The Musical” soundtrack I’ve had my eye on. In fact after sitting here staring out the window, I don’t honestly believe that if I had purchased any other mobile device or still had a plain mobile phone that I would still be a Zune Pass user. My mind can’t fanthom why someone in an office building over at Microsoft seems to think that Zune Pass is remotely competitive in this market. Others are cheaper, stream on more devices, and (according to numbers from Microsoft and Napster) offer more music for streaming.

Microsoft this isn’t 2006, and the Zune Music Pass is simply no longer a viable option for a lot of users. Sure, I’m more than happy to fork over $14.95 a month for the service but hell, in order for someone to see the value in the service they must first have all of your stuff. That’s simply not how the subscription market is moving. Keep the $14.95 and free credits if you like but it’s time to get that price down to a place where we broke college students and those of a reasonable mind (and don’t bleed Microsoft) can afford. $8.95 without credits should be a minimum and there needs to be an option for using the service on non-Microsoft devices. Until then the service is simply out of step with the beat music listeners are grooving to. How do you guys feel about the current pricing of the Zune Music Pass versus what the competition is offering?

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