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在线音乐江湖:Spotify如日中天,Rhapsody卧薪尝胆

Richard Nieva 2011年09月30日

十年前,是它挺身而出,对抗非法音乐下载,开拓了流媒体音乐订阅服务。现在,唱片公司与消费者都已经接受了它的商业模式,它却无缘站在聚光灯下享受荣光。

    Rhapsody开创了付费音乐订阅服务的先河,现在理所应当站在聚光灯下享受万众瞩目的礼遇。唱片公司和消费者都已彻底接受了它的商业模式。可是,Rhapsody却成了一位失意者。

    十年前,在线音乐服务Napster和席卷全球、毫无节制地非法音乐共享吓坏了音乐产业,Rhapsody趁势确立了其市场地位,成为首家重要的付费音乐服务。但现在,它却被Spotify夺去了风头。这家公司位于欧洲,拥有相似的商业模式。上周,在旧金山召开的Facebook公司 f 8开发者大会上,占据了讲台中央是Spotify,而不是Rhapsody。会上,马克•扎克伯格发表了万众瞩目的主题演讲,Spotify的首席执行官丹尼尔•艾克成为他邀请上台的第一位贵客。两人大肆吹嘘了新型社交媒体平台音乐的诸多特性,随后,扎克伯格播放了一个幻灯片,展示了其他在线音乐领域的其他合作伙伴,Rhapsody也位列其中。但它仅仅是一晃而过,很可能是后来临时才增补进去的对象。

    Rhapsody受到的这种怠慢是在音乐产业持续变化的背景下出现的。今年早些时候,尼尔森唱片市场调查公司(Nielsen SoundScan)称,2010年,美国音乐销量总体下滑了2.4%。但是数字音乐销量反而上升,而且基于订阅的服务表现出稳定增长的态势。市场研究公司ABI预计,到2016年,全世界将有1.61亿人通过手机获取音乐,与今年的590万人相比增长明显。美国唱片工业协会(Record Industry Association of America)称,2010年在线音乐订阅销售收入达到了2.01亿美元。尽管Rhapsody在这个行业拥有十年的先发优势,但它却突然发现,自己得拼尽全力去追赶一家新晋公司大步流星的步伐。这到底是怎么回事?

    Rhapsody之所以落得今天的结局,可能仅仅是因为当年它太过于超前了。在云服务这一概念,更别说这个说法还没开始流行很久以前,它就已经在倡导将音乐存储于云中了。这么做的后果,用位于南加州的音乐资讯网站Digital Music News创始人保罗•雷斯尼科夫的话说就是,大家往往听不进去,还觉得困惑挠头。此外,该公司还经历了好几轮错综复杂的转型。2004年,它先是被RealPlayer播放器制造商RealNetworks公司(RealNetworks)收购;三年后,又被剥离出去,成为传媒巨头维亚康姆(Viacom)的合资公司。去年4月,它又将自己重新命名为Rhapsody国际公司(Rhapsody International)。

    这家公司属于私营性质,并未公布其财务数据。但它号称拥有80万名每月付费10美元的订户。它的竞争对手Spotify则拥有140万名美国用户,《公告牌》杂志(Billboard)援引一位消息人士称,其中约17万人每月支付4.99美元或9.99美元的订费。

    尽管Spotify优势在握,但Rhapsody并未就此臣服。Facebook大会召开期间,它借势发布了一项为期30天的会员免费试用服务,并推出了新的战略:押宝手机。它的应用软件可让用户有权获得公司拥有的1,300万首歌曲。当我们坐在旧金山的一家咖啡店里时,公司总裁乔恩•欧文本人就在用自己的手机挑选音乐,兴奋之情,溢于言表。他打开了数张专辑和多个播放列表,包括英国歌手阿黛尔的《19》以及“少女之歌”(Chicksongs)。后者是一个由用户创建的播放列表,完全由歌名是女性名字的歌曲构成。他指出,用户在手机上消费的歌曲要比在电脑上多出30%。

    欧文从来就不是所谓的“免费+增值”(freemium)商业模式的拥趸。但他承认,Rhapsody的免费试用实际上就是用户在一定的限制下(这里就是时间限制)可以体验该产品。他特别强调,这和竞争对手提供的服务有所不同。相比之下,Spotify的免费版是有广告赞助的,仅限于电脑使用,而且六个月后可听歌曲的数量就会受到限制。此前,Rhapsody也曾尝试过这种策略,向用户提供两周以及60天的免费试用期。但这两种方式都要求用户提供信用卡信息,让很多人打消了注册的念头。

    目前还不清楚Facebook对这家公司会产生什么影响。不久,Facebook 的8亿名活跃用户就能实时发布自己正在听的歌曲,好友们通过Facebook的音乐服务合作伙伴立刻就能同步分享这些音乐。这一新功能将带来庞大的访问量,但也同时将使竞争进一步加剧。欧文认为,在这场Facebook用户的争夺战中,规模较小的供应商,如Mixcloud和Rdio最终将会被淘汰出局。欧文还认为,这个体制对拥有最多现成用户的服务商有利,从而帮到Rhapsody。他说:“我们的一大现成优势在于,在按需供给的音乐领域,Rhapsody是目前规模最大的一家。”

    实际上,Rhapsody一直在铁杆乐迷中颇为成功。在Facebook上,也能找到一大批用它分享音乐的忠诚听众。市场调研公司NPD Group的数据显示,Rhapsody的用户在CD和数字音乐下载服务上最舍得掏腰包。NPD公司的消费者和零售市场研究员拉斯•克鲁普尼克称:“Rhapsody是真正为核心音乐用户服务的。”吸引偶尔使用的乐迷可能有难度。“问题在于要努力将现有的80万名订阅用户壮大到800万名。”他补充说。

    Spotify显然是个可畏的强敌。它已从包括硅谷的凯鹏华盈风投公司(Kleiner Perkins)这样的知名投资机构募得了上百万美元。而且它已获得了消费产品生产商梦寐以求的人气和增长动力。当然,这种局面不会一成不变。更有可能的局面是,这两家公司继续鏖战,直至分出胜负。现在,既然Rhapsody的商业模式已经得到广泛认可, 它要做的就是找到办法,与采取了相同模式的强敌一决高下。

    译者:清远

    For all its work in pioneering paid music subscriptions, Rhapsody should be enjoying a moment in the digital limelight right now. Record companies and consumers alike have overwhelmingly accepted its business model. Instead, Rhapsody is the underdog.

    Rhapsody established itself as the first important paid music service a decade ago, after Napster and a worldwide binge of illegal file sharing spooked the music industry. But now it is being outshined by Spotify, a European-based rival with a similar business model. It was Spotify, not Rhapsody, at center stage last week at Facebook's f8 developer's conference in San Francisco. Spotify CEO Daniel Eck was Mark Zuckerberg's first guest during the widely watched keynote. After the two touted a slew of new social music features, Zuckerberg flashed a slide featuring other online music partners, Rhapsody included. It appeared so briefly it could have been an afterthought.

    The slight comes amid continued change for the music industry. Earlier this year, Nielsen (NLSN) SoundScan reported that overall U.S. music sales were down 2.4% in 2010. Digital sales were up, however, and subscription-based services appear poised for growth. Research firm ABI projects that by 2016 some 161 million subscribers will be accessing music from their mobile phones around the world, up from just 5.9 million this year. Online subscriptions revenues were about $201 million in 2010, according to the Record Industry Association of America. Despite a ten-year head start in that very business, Rhapsody suddenly finds itself trying desperately to catch up to the momentum of a glitzy newcomer. What happened?

    Rhapsody may simply have been ahead of its time. It advocated storing music in the cloud long before the idea, let alone the term, was in vogue. The result, according to Paul Resnikoff, founder of the Southern California-based Digital Music News, was often clunky and confusing. The company also underwent multiple convoluted transformations. In 2004, it was acquired by RealNetworks (RNWKD) and spun off again three years later as a joint venture with Viacom (VIA). Last April, it rebranded itself as Rhapsody International.

    The company is private and does not release its financial numbers, but it says it has some 800,000 subscribers paying $10 a month. Rival Spotify has 1.4 million U.S. users, about 170,000 of which pay either $4.99 or $9.99 a month, according to a source cited by Billboard.

    Rhapsody hasn't taken Spotify's ascendency lying down. On the fringes of Facebook's conference, it revealed a new 30-day free trial membership offer and, with it, a new strategy: an emphasis on mobile. Its app gives users access to the company's 13 million songs and, as we sit in a San Francisco café, president Jon Irwin sifts through music on his phone with a palpable excitement. He opens up a number of albums and playlists, including "19" by Adele and "Chicksongs," a user-created playlist consisting entirely of songs whose titles are a female name. Users consume 30% more music on mobile devices than on desktops, he notes.

    Irwin has never been a fan of the so-called "freemium" business model. But he admits that Rhapsody's free trial is exactly that: a taste of the product with certain restrictions -- in this case, a time limit. He stresses that it is different from competitors' offers. By comparison, Spotify's free version is ad supported, restricted to desktop usage and caps the number of song plays after six months. Rhapsody has tried the tactic before, offering two-week and 60-day free trials. Both required users to submit credit card information, deterring many from signing up.

    It's not yet clear how Facebook will impact the company either. Its 800 million active users will soon be able to post what songs they are currently listening to while friends will be able to listen instantly via partnering music services. That could provide a huge swell of traffic, but also sharpen competition. Irwin believes smaller providers, such as Mixcloud and Rdio, will eventually fall to the wayside in the battle for Facebook's users. Irwin thinks the scheme will favor the services with the most existing customers, helping Rhapsody. "One advantage that we have right out of the gate is that, in the on demand music business, Rhapsody is by far the largest," he says.

    Indeed, Rhapsody has been a success with diehard music fans and could find itself with a legion of devoted listeners sharing music on Facebook. According to the NPD group, Rhapsody users spend the most money on physical CDs and digital downloads. "It's really for the hardcore music user," says Russ Crupnick, a consumer and retail market researcher with NPD. Hooking casual fans may be harder. "The problem is trying to turn their 800,000 subscribers to 8 million," he adds.

    It's clear that Spotify is a formidable foe. It's raised millions from prominent investors including Silicon Valley's Kleiner Perkins. And it's got the hype and momentum consumer product markers crave. That could change, of course. More likely is that the two services continue to battle it out. Now that its model has been widely accepted, Rhapsody has to find a way to deal with tough competitors that have adopted it too.

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