RealOne Music (RealNetworks) Online Subscription Music Service

AudioWorld Rating:

Selling Online Music As If You’d Really Rather Not

RealOne Music, as offered by RealNetworks, might better be named: RealDud.

The much-hyped MusicNet online music subscription service, with backing from major labels EMI, Warner Music and Bertelsmann (BMG), is available as an add-on to Real Networks’ premium paid content service, RealOne. It will soon be available through America Online as well. Given the restrictions placed on the material you download, and the relatively high cost per download, it’s hard to see why anyone but a fanatic would subscribe.

Here’s the deal.

For $9.95 per month, you get to download 100 files and stream 100 more tunes. You can use the downloads for 30 days, and then they expire (unless you pay for them again out of the next month’s allocation). The streams are low-quality one-time plays, presumably only useful as a way to check out unfamiliar music so you can decide if it’s worth downloading (there’s no other way to preview or sample the available tracks). You can only play downloaded files on your PC: no burning to CD or transfers to portable players allowed.

If the poor value proposition isn’t enough to kill RealOne Music, how about this: the RealOne Player software required to access the service is buggy and prone to crashes (my favorite frequent crash happens when I try to stream a track, but haven’t already downloaded a track during the current session – a classic Catch-22 situation).

But wait, that’s not all — the search function is poorly designed, too! After a search (by keyword, artist, track title, or album title), you are presented with track-by-track listings, but there is no way to click through to an artist or album detail page, the obvious next step. All you can do is either stream or download the individual tracks.

This is all a pity, because buried beneath the roadblocks there is some good content, including a useful ‘recommendations’ feature (“Similar Artists”), and album reviews and artist biographies drawn from the All Music Guide. Oh yes, and some good music, with fine sound quality (downloads only, the streaming audio sounds quite bad).

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