Are We Spoiled By Streaming Media?
Will the free lunch buffet for music and video content ever end?
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Spotify is available for Apple and Android smart phones.
August 03, 2011 by Grant Clauser

Streaming content—both videos and music—is so easy now, and so cheap, that I worry we’ve gotten a little spoiled by the experience and will begin to expect everything to be as easy and cheap, forgetting the huge backend infrastructure it takes to make these systems work.

A couple of weeks ago the web went berserk over the Netflix price increase for DVD delivery. The price increase didn’t change the streaming accounts, so I personally didn’t really care. I had stopped Netflix from mailing me plastic discs as soon as I could. My streaming only Netflix account still only costs me $8—which is less than I paid for a Ruben sandwich last night at a pub. 

Read 9 Alternatives to Netflix.

Then shortly after that the news came out that Spotify was finally available in the US. This music service, like Pandora and others, offers a searchable interface of nearly anything. Seriously. Anything. Get a group of people in a room and try to play a round of Stump Spotify. I wouldn’t be surprised if my daughter’s viola recitals showed up.

But, oh the disappointment that hardware partners who implemented Spotify would only allow premium subscriptions. In other words, to use it on anything other than a computer, you have to PAY for the service. **Insert gasp here**  I mean really, $10 a month for all the music your two ears have room for. So I buckled up and signed on to a paid membership and vowed to have one less Hop Devil at Molly’s to make up for the $ (I broke that vow, by the way).

Anyway, here I was last weekend browsing the iPhone app for the Autonomic Mirage MMS-5 music server, trying to decide what to impress my guests with. I asked my friend Chris what he wanted to hear.
“What do you have?” he asked.

Read a review of the Autonomic Mirage MMS-5 here.

“You name it,” I responded, sneering slightly to myself.

The biggest challenge he could come up with was Black Sabbath, so off I was to Pandora and came back with Ozzy singing Sweet Leaf.  That was too easy.

I spent the rest of the evening tune surfing between a variety of music services and Flemish pop polka Internet radio (really, look it up).

I’m old enough to have seen music evolve from when records crawled out of the primordial ooze and became CDs, then CDs became, well, more CDs and all those little steps in-between until music became these little files traded online or streamed through Blu-ray players. My teen daughters, on the other hand, can’t get their heads around cassette tapes, let alone FM radio. Every time I log onto my Pandora account I see that one of my kids have added yet another Justin Bieber channel (without deleting the other six). Occasionally they talk me into buying them iTunes cards so they can download music for keeps.

Instant access to anything does make me feel spoiled. My father’s home music collection is limited to about 100 vinyl albums and a few dozen CDs.  My home music collection is essentially unlimited in the cloud, and ridiculously inexpensive.  Of course, we can debate fidelity, and I’ll agree that a quality LP or CD recording is going to sound better than what I get from the streaming services I listen to, but most of the time, I’m more than satisfied with that.

And consider apps. Most of the gazillions of apps for iDevices are free. Of the 45 apps on my iPhone, I paid for three (and one I even complained about). My kids’ iPods are loaded with free apps. Alright, most of those apps are junk or are just teasers leading to something paid, but many are fully-functional and useful applications. And they’re free. What happens when people start expecting to be paid for things?
I wonder though what my kids will eventually draw from all this… how will easy access to anything impact how they appreciate new music experiences?  Negatively or positively? 

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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