Travis Pope
Editor, ZuneSpring
last updated on February 1, 2010
first published on February 1, 2010

While the Zune devices and software normally dominate the headlines , it’s important to remember that the Zune Marketplace is really one of those things that helps complete the package. Here’s my very detailed look at what the store has to offer.

Music Rocks

The Zune Marketplace represents not only a pay-per-song or as I like to call it the (iTunes model) but also allows you to use the best subscription service the world has ever seen.All your Zune Social friends and information or directly integrated into each artist, album, page. There’s tour information there, along with information on albums from the artist the Zune Marketplace doesn’t yet have, friends that listen to the same music you do. Also the entire marketplace is gorgeous. Everything is seamless, looking just as good as it’s software and hardware counterparts. No Spreadsheets here folks! That being said, there are some issues here, and they are fundamental to helping the Zune ecosystem become a credible alternative to the iTunes Store. Zune Pass requires you to update the licenses on the music you download using it at least once month. fair enough, what’s a problem is when for some reason the services’ back end suddenly stops working. Locking your content and refusing to let it sync to your Zune. I’m told this happens mostly if a record label or artist decides to change their terms with Microsoft. With that in mind I don’t blame them for the labels not understanding how people in this day and age enjoy they music. Why should they start understanding that now?

And Then There’s Everything Else

This past year Microsoft has gone to great length to step up the Video content inside the Marketplace, and I compliment them. I could detail new Networks, but it would be worthless to. Last year at this time there were 10, now there’s double that. Movies & Video Rentals in the marketplace are also very compelling, if you have the right hardware that is. Movies, TV Shows, & Music Videos can be purchased and loaded on your PC or Zune HD. In fact combined with Zune Video on XBOX, you can stream all of this video content to your television in 1080p goodness. Despite the different places you can watch TV Shows it still leaves you feeling like it hasn’t been quite filled out. For example the #1 broadcaster in the U.S., CBS has three shows available for download. I know they’ll get there with time, they just aren’t there yet.Video Podcasts do help to make up for shortcomings in the TV show area though. At this point it’s filled to the gills with enjoyable content and a lot of that is full episodes of your favorite news magazines in video form. I consume about 12 hours of podcast a week; nearly double what I use my TV, so as you can imagine this excites me a great deal. Oh and audio podcasts are just as plentiful as video podcasts.

And the Shelves Were Empty

While visually pleasing, and totally integrated into the desktop client, the Marketplace doesn’t have anything near the amount of songs that the iTunes store has readily available for purchase. What’s the difference? Somewhere between a million to two million tracks at last count, something that isn’t noticeable until you configure your software to show albums that aren’t available. After viewing a few of my favorites artists like this I can honestly say it does bother me to a certain degree. If you like popular artists you are fine. You’ll always find those artists who are on the radio, and quite a bit more who aren’t to be fair. However it’s been four years, If Zune Marketplace was going to catch up, you would think it would have happened by now.

Third is the funny money joke that is Microsoft Points. Requiring people to convert numbers to purchase content, no matter how dead simple it is, is unacceptable. Yes, this may allow you to use the same currency on XBOX Live, but I nor people who just purchase things on one or the other alone don’t care. On top of all that I have no way of just using the points in a dead simple fashion. Instead I’m forced to purchase them in $5 increments. I get that this may help Microsoft cut down on credit card charges and encourage buying more points but it’s 2010 guys, let’s stop with the ridiculousness.

Equally questionable is what I like to call “genre-gate”. While updating my software this past week I made the decision to let the software manage all the information about music, including what genres each song should be in. The result was a giant cesspool of songs with lost tag information, genres reading “Rock/Pop” and just “Rock”. To me, a service selling me on the idea letting it take charge of the wilderness that is my music collection should at least be able to decide which genre the music I used their service to download belongs to. To not be able to do so effectively isn’t just odd, it’s a crime. There are also some issues with that tour information I mentioned earlier. It seems to rarely get taken down, exposing you to tours that ended sometimes nearly a year ago.

Overall the Zune Marketplace experience is one of those things in the ecosystem that troubles me. I understand that catching up to iTunes is no easy task, however that’s not at all I’m asking for. I understand that creating a vast content ecosystem takes time and dedication. Nevertheless it’s been four years here, one of which we spent with no podcasts, two which we spent with video content, and three of which we spent, without movies. None of which bothered me in retrospect, because the music content is just that compelling. On the other hand yes, Zune Marketplace doesn’t have a lot of the other forms of content besides Music and podcasts, but that’s fine –there’s no compelling reason to choose Zune Marketplace for those areas over a competitor anyway except the XBOX integration and HD video out on the ZuneHD.  Choosing to use the Zune based solely on the Zune Marketplace is asking for disappointment. The video area just isn’t there yet, nor is the barely existent Apps area (Oh god apps!) or the completely nonexistent Audiobooks area. On the plus side though, the design, music discovery, and UI of the music store shine. So I’m torn here. Overall I’m splitting the difference. For music Zune is the best. For everything else? Not so much. The good news is that over time, things should be relatively easy to improve. The math is simple. Dump the points system, add the content, and you’ve got yourself a winner here.

Everything that has a pink overlay in the corner is unavailable.

Yes ladies and gentlemen that says a tour -from 2008.

To the Point

If you are already using the Zune Marketplace for Music, give the extra features a try. The podcasts area is well done, and filled with programs for all to enjoy. Those who are switching from another platform should keep their feet firmly rooted in reality. Discovering music on this platform is as easy as it could possibly be, however lack of TV Shows, and any extras such as Audiobooks, and Apps should be points for you to consider before you make your purchase. With any luck these issues will improve over time.

Zune Marketplace 4.0