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Review Roundup: Five Music Subscription Services Challenge iTunes

Music is everywhere these days. Thousands of tunes are immediately accessible via your computer and your mobile player. However, the advent of music subscription download services has fueled a debate among aficionados. Is it better to rent all the music you want for a monthly fee that's about the same as the cost of a single CD, or buy the music outright without limits or conditions -- for more?

It all started three years ago with Apple's iTunes music service, which was an immediate hit because of its famously large selection of legal 99-cents-a-tune songs and full-CD prices of about $10. iTunes remains a star--according to Nielsen/NetRatings, traffic to the iTunes music store surged by 241 percent in 2005, and recently the service reached its one billionth download.

Online Music Services

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However, the next generation of music services, which started emerging in 2005, may trump that hand. Subscription download services let you pay a flat monthly subscription fee of between $5 and $15, which is less than the typical cost of a full CD. For that fee, you can download all the available music you want and play it on your desktop computer or personal media player.

But you can play the music only if you pay the monthly fee; the digital rights management (DRM) software prevents playback if you stop paying the "rent." And you can't share with friends or burn CDs with subscription service music. To do that, you still must buy the music outright.

Because the subscription services provide virtually unlimited downloads, those who don't care about burning CDs report feeling like the proverbial kid in a candy store after they subscribe. However, those who do care about actually owning music often report a look-but-don't-touch reaction.

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