Where’s the innovation?

Yet another innovative business model for downloadable music, today proposed by Slate: real-time auction-based pricing. The higher demand is for a particular song, the more it costs. This would allow record companies to profit from their immense back catalogs without asking retailers to waste shelf space on them, while giving consumers a huge price break.

Unfortunately, we get crap like this instead. This is Rhapsody’s new Web-based interface. Now, I tried Rhapsody on a free trial for a few months back in late 2003, and it was a useful service–it helped me pretest some heavily hyped records, some of which I ended up buying, others of which it turned out I did not like. But overall, I thought the price of $10/month was too steep for songs that I couldn’t burn to my hard drive or transfer to a portable device.

So today I checked out the new Web-based interface for Rhapsody, thinking of signing up. I found a confusing array of product names and no pricing information. What’s the difference between Rhapsody Unlimited and Rhapsody Jukebox and the “software-only option”? Who knows? How much does each version cost? Sorry, that information’s proprietary. Does it support the only portable music player that matters, the iPod? Sort of. Not that you’d know it unless you happened across this page and selected “Apple” from the dropdown list at the right side. Not to mention the fact that they throw up a totally useless registration screen when all I wanted to do was find out how much stuff costs and what I get.

Doesn’t RealNetworks have anybody who knows anything about UI design? Haven’t they read the first rule of Web design, which is never ask potential customers for information without promising something valuable in return?

It’s almost as if they have no faith in their own products, so try to get you to trick you into giving away your credit card information. But this is no surprise from a company that has made a career out of creating hassles for consumers.

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