Microsoft is giving an early holiday gift to people who pay for access to the Zune digital music store: 10 songs to keep each month, included in the $14.99 monthly subscription fee.
Zune Pass, Rhapsody and others give users unlimited access to millions of songs in exchange for a monthly fee. But as soon as the user stops paying, the music stops playing unless he or she forks over extra money to buy each track. With the new Zune Pass perk, subscribers can use the Zune desktop software as usual to buy individual songs, and the service keeps track of how many free ones remain for the month.
"A Zune Pass gives a subscriber access to millions of tracks that can be streamed or downloaded from a PC or directly from a Zune device when in a wireless hot spot. Downloaded music can be shared among up to three PCs and three Zune devices. In addition to unlimited downloads, consumers now also get to select 10 free tracks per month to keep and add to their permanent collection. These tracks can be burned to a CD or moved to other devices even if their subscription ends," Microsoft said in a statement.
Zune has made agreements with major and independent music labels to bring new value to the subscription music model. Agreements have been signed between Microsoft and EMI Music, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group (UMG) and Warner Music Group, as well as independent distributors INgrooves, Independent Online Distribution Alliance and The Orchard.
Zune Pass subscribers will have the benefit of retaining digital rights management (DRM)-free MP3 tracks from Sony BMG and UMG, in addition to MP3 tracks from EMI Music, Warner Music Group and other independent music labels. With the addition of tracks from UMG and Sony BMG, Zune will soon offer over 90 percent of its music in the MP3 format.
"The way people consume music has changed. With the shift to digital from CDs, it is more challenging than ever to offer the right mix of deep content, music discovery and economic value," said Chris Stephenson, general manager of global marketing for Zune at Microsoft. "People want the freedom to listen to whatever they want across millions of songs, combined with the confidence that they can keep their favorite tracks forever."
Zune is offering a free, 14-day trial at http://www.zune.net/free
Microsoft's Zune is a minor player compared with Apple's line of iPods. Apple snagged 71 percent of MP3 player sales from January to September of this year, to Microsoft's 3 percent, according to market researcher NPD Group.
Microsoft and Apple both sell digital tracks for 99 cents, but so far, Apple has resisted the idea of a subscription service.