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Commentary: MTV Loses Its Urge, and So Do I

To start I provided a user name and password, then tossed down my StreamingMedia.com Visa number (just kidding, Eric) and was prompted to proceed to the rhapsody.com main page. So far so good.

When I was redirected to the main page, I found several options: One told me I could sign up for unlimited music (which I thought I'd already just done), one told me I could play a song, and another told me I could download, burn, and mix songs.

I chose the latter, as I wanted to download a song to analyze it on our test bed to see what format and bitrate it was encoded in. But, as I was using a Mac during the sign up phase, I was immediately greeted by an error message that said "Rhapsody software is not compatible with Mac OSX at this time. Please try to redeem these credits on a PC running Windows XP or 2000."

What? I signed up for something that didn't require software, right? Turns out that's not true at all. Rhapsody does require software if you want to download songs. While the pitch page stating that it was available for Mac, Windows, and Linux is only partially true, the systems requirement pages only list browser and processor requirements, not available hard drive requirements, making it appear that the browser was the only thing needed, until this unpleasant surprise after signing up. Flashbacks to earlier frustrations with Real started bubbling up, but I stifled them and moved on.

So, not having the option to download on the Mac, and not really wanting to take the risk of putting an ad-infested piece of software on my Windows XP machine, I went back to the main page, to listen to my music in the web browser. Another surprise.

Under the heading "Hey! Start Playing Now, It's Free" were the following instructions: "It's easy to listen to full-length tracks, not 30-second samples, free on Rhapsody Online. Here's how: 1. Click a play button 2. Download the Rhapsody Player 3. Listen and repeat"

Again, even though one of the pre-sign up pitches was that there is no software to download, it turns out it's the "bulky" part of the "no downloads" message that Real was trying to emphasize. When I clicked "play" on a song I chose through the search engine, it launched a separate window that had the following instructions:
"To play music, you'll need to do a quick install, and we do mean quick: Less than 500kb to download, No credit card required, No registration required."

Of course I'd already provided a credit card and registered, so those weren't needed any more, but the software was a requirement to even listen to the music in the browser. Below that set of instructions, I was also told that the free features allow me to "play 25 songs per month, pick from 2 million+ songs in our library, and play 25 premium Rhapsody Channels without limit" (Real's version of online radio). Guess I lost a million songs between the pre-sign up pitch and the first song I wanted to play.

So I went back to the main page, and chose the "Sign up for Unlimited Music" button, which was another option, even though I thought I'd already done so.

This took me to another page with a button that said "Upgrade to Rhapsody Unlimited" and an additional note told me that "Rhapsody Unlimited gives you the best Rhapsody has to offer: unlimited access to a vast music library of over 3 million tracks and growing; enjoy 80 commercial free radio stations, instant playlist sharing and a whole lot more."

I clicked on the upgrade button and was prompted to enter my user name / password again. I did so and then was back at a sign up page that looked identical to the one at which I'd signed up for my 14-day trial. Except this page just told me that, to continue, I would need to pay $12.99 per month. No mention of the 14-day trial anywhere.

So I quit the browser. I then re-entered the browser and tried to sign in to Rhapsody from the main page. Guess what? I had to download the software even to sign in! Thinking this must be a mistake and that I needed to restart the machine to get Rhapsody to let me listen to music in my browser, I shut the machine down and booted up again. Sure enough, I still had to download the software to sign in.

Since it's not kosher to download even a small file to a PC at a friend's house or client's office to be able to listen to my music, I threw in the towel. With my dream of listening to my music from any browser shattered, I then began to reverse the process.Cancelling the service requires logging in to another location (that doesn't require one to download any software). I looked around the Rhapsody site to find cancellation information, finally resorting to checking the introductory email when I couldn't find an easy way to cancel directly on the site. The emailed like then required clicking a series of links on several pages called "Cancel Subscription" which finally yields a phone number one must call to actually cancel. Cancellation on the phone took two calls and just under 17 minutes with "Derek" and "Victor" in which time I was told a variety of reasons why I should download software, none of which aligned to the sign-up page's pitch. So total time was just under 45 minutes, spread out over several hours of frustration.

It suddenly struck me: setting it up had taken just about 23 minutes. So apparently the digital music business is not much different from the old adage that says it makes no difference—in a city—if you walk, drive a car, or ride a horse: you'll still average about 7 miles per hour no matter what.

After figuring that out, I guess you could say that I, too, lost my urge to try Rhapsody or switch from what has worked well for me before. More's the pity because I really was willing to give Rhapsody a try.

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