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MOG joins the subscription-music fray

December 2, 2009 | 11:26 am

MP3, online music, subscription music services, Napster, Rhapsody, MOG
There must be something compelling about the subscription-music business model that the public just hasn't grasped yet. No matter how many companies give up on it because they can't attract enough subscribers, new ones always arrive to try to make it work.

The latest is MOG, which launched a $5-per-month version today. I've lost count, but I think we're now on the fourth iteration of MOG -- it started as a music-blogging outpost, then added music videos, then integrated Rhapsody to allow a limited number of free songs on demand. Now, after a long delay (the all-too-familiar cause: licensing issues with the major labels), MOG is rolling out a subscription layer that adds unlimited streams on demand, personalized radio and a rich trove of user-generated playlists.

The price puts it in line with Napster's listen-only offering, although Napster also lets users download an MP3 for every dollar they spend on subscription fees. In other words, Napster treats the streams as a free throw-in to an eMusic-like subscription downloading service. (Another good analogy: Netflix.) Armed with a library that's similar to its competitors, MOG is betting on the strength of the content generated by its staff and users, which turn the site into a one-stop shop for music news, reviews, commentary, social networking *and* listening. The integration of crowd-sourced playlists and blogs give MOG more powerful music-discovery tools than other services provide as well as more (and more unique) content than its rivals.

Yet the question lingers: Are people willing to pay for access to music, especially when there's so much available free (e.g., Grooveshark, Imeem, MySpace Music, Lala, Slacker -- and that's not counting  unauthorized sources)? I've been a fan of subscription services for a long time. On the other hand, I'm a voracious consumer of music -- especially when it's being created by someone I've never heard of before. That makes me well-suited for a service like Napster or the new MOG, but not terribly representative of most consumers. Said consumers tend to have one giant problem with subscription services, aside from the sense of getting nothing permanent in return for their money: They don't work on iPods. (Rhapsody, at least, works on an iPhone.) All the same, MOG's announcement reinforces Napster's bet that $5 a month is the new price point for subscriptions, not $13 to 15 (a la Rhapsody or Zune Pass). And that's much less of a leap for consumers to take, even if their musical appetites aren't as large as mine.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him on Twitter: @jcahealey

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