Is Rhapsody As Good As It Used To Be?

Posted by: Peter Burrows on February 09, 2010

Real Networks is cutting its Rhapsody music business free to pursue an IPO (just as Arik suggestedin this prescient story many months ago. How does he do it?).

The news of the IPO doesn’t fill me with optimism—which is only interesting because I, unlike the vast majority of analysts and industry watchers, have long thought the business had great potential. The change of heart isn’t based on any rethinking of the subscription model. One way or another, this will ultimately be the future of music. It’s only a matter of time before people realize that there’s no reason to buy songs a la carte or put up with annoying ads when you can have listen to whatever you want for a flat monthly fee. Once the price is right on these subscriptions—say, $3 or less per month, buried in your cellphone or broadband bill—hundreds of millions of people will jump on board.

But ultimately could be a long way off, and an independant Rhapsody will have less financial firepower at its disposal to stay in the fight long enough to secure victory. Especially if the quality of the service declines—which in my case, it has. For the last eight months or so, I’ve been running into a maddening Infinite Loop, so to speak, whereby a problem with the Helix DRM technology in Rhapsody causes it to crash every time I try to use the $140 Sandisk Sansa View portable MP3 player I bought to use with the service last May. I connect the device, and get an error message telling me I need a new version of Rhapsody—but once installed I’m told I need to update my license to play the music transferred to the device. Which leads to the error message requiring the new version of Rhapsody…and so on.

Am I alone in this? If you are a Rhapsody user, let us know whether the quality of your experience has held up. And whether you think news of the IPO was good news or bad news for fans of the service.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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