In the olden days, most of the music on music fans’ hard drives came from P2P networks and ripped CDs. If Apple’s vision of the music cloud proves dominant, the future will resemble that past, perhaps with MP3s downloaded from music blogs replacing CD ripping.
Steve Jobs didn’t believe people wanted to rent music, which is why iTunes doesn’t offer a real subscription service. Apple iCloud and its recently launched iTunes Match feature are neat, and helpful.
But this system is essentially an invisible, infinitely long USB cable that you can rent for $25 per year. You still have to “own” the music, whether you pay to download it or not.
Steve Jobs was no dummy, of course, and there’s a very good argument for music being owned, not rented: because there is no good way to port a music collection between subscription services. If you love music — which music fans do by definition — you want to keep the good stuff with you. It should become a part of you and your environment as you move through life — but it can’t do that if you lose your collection every time you switch between MOG, Spotify, Rhapsody, Napster, Rdio, and whatever other services emerge.
And even if you could, participating in something like that would defeat Apple’s purpose in selling digital music in the first place, which is to make its hardware more attractive and harder to leave behind once you switch to it.
It doesn’t help much if your music is portable in space, between your house and your car, if it’s not also portable through time, over years or decades of life. This is something we music fans grasp on a subconscious level — especially because digital things already feel fleeting enough.
Switches between physical formats, which have only occurred a handful of times, have been traumatic. People bought the same albums on CD that they’d owned on cassette or vinyl, because the new formats conferred a new advantage.
Digital music isn’t like that. This is the last pure listening format, barring incremental improvements in sound quality and app-based formats that go beyond pure listening. We’re done with collecting the same recorded music over and over again — or at least we should be, because there’s no good reason we should have to do it anymore.