Beginning of the end for the beloved Zune Pass?

Say what you will about the Microsoft Zune and Microsoft’s apparent abandonment of the Zune hardware platform, but the one thing that Microsoft got right was the Zune software, interface, and subscription model.  For subscribers of the latter (known as the ‘Zune Pass’), a change has been recently announced:

The good news: the price has been reduced from $14.99 to $9.99.  The bad news: instead of syncing to 6 devices (3 portable, 3 computers) and keeping 10 tracks a month, you now get 4 devices (any combination) and don’t get to keep anything.  If you are already on the $14.99 plan, you get to keep it, but it’s not an option for new subscribers moving forward… only the $9.99 plan is.

For most, the reduced pricing will be a welcome change, but for long-timers like me, I see it as the potential beginning of the end.  Microsoft is effectively taking away a couple of nice features that really set the Zune Pass apart from competing subscription models.  I have always seen the Zune Pass as being generous, so I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen, but that generosity is exactly why I’ve been a subscriber for so long, and one of the main reasons why I love the Zune so much.  As it stands with the new plan, there isn’t much (by way of raw subscription features) to differentiate it from others such as Rhapsody or Napster, and it clearly gives Spotify (or other free-ish streaming services) a leg up.

Consider how my family uses the pass now:  We have two Zune players, and 3 PCs that we synchronize from.  That’s a total of 5 devices all coexisting happily under one Zune Pass account, each with their own libraries of music, and I can independently sync what I want, when I want, without having to blow out any libraries, etc. (try that with iTunes, et al).  AND, I get to keep 10 tracks permanently as MP3 copies, every single month.  If you count an MP3 download as costing roughly $1 (in iTunes, it would be $1.29 or so), then I’m really just paying about $5 for the streaming service – an incredible bargain.

Under the new plan, I’d have to get rid of one of the devices (most likely a PC), and I no longer get to keep any tracks as MP3.  Really kind of a bummer.  I wish Microsoft would just keep both plans, and continue to offer the old one to new subscribers.  In the context of music, taking away choice is never a good thing.

For those of you who just don’t understand what makes the Zune so good, download the desktop software and give it a go.  Explore the Marketplace, the Smart DJ, the ‘Picks for you’, and the Mix Views, etc.  Anything else will seem positively ancient (looking at you, Spotify and iTunes), and I guarantee you’ll never look back.

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