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Napster and co. will have to work much harder if they're to convince music buyers that subscription services are worth the money.

That's the conclusion of research conducted by market watcher Parks Associates. Its Global Digital Living survey reveals that only eight per cent of people who own MP3 players and possess an Internet connection are likely to use a music subscription service this year.

By contrast, around 40 per cent said they are likely to buy songs on a one-off basis.

"Consumers either do not fully grasp the value of a subscription 'all-you-can-eat' service, or they simply don't want it," said Parks research director John Barrett.

There can be a financial benefit to the subscription services, if you download enough content, but the fundamental barrier appears the rental element - users don't own the music they download. Stop paying Napster, Virgin or whoever, and your downloads immediately become unplayable.

Given the highly disposable nature of much popular music, there's a pitch to be made for subscription services as a more economic way of sampling music than buying stacks of potentially duff albums. The trouble is, illegal music sharing provides exactly the same benefit, but is free.

That at least contrasts with the a la carte services, such as Apple's iTunes Music Store, which stress ownership and are therefore more likely to appeal to folk looking for songs they know they will like, and what to be sure they get a decent copy at a good sample rate with all the artwork etc.

But the news isn't all that good for a la carte services, such as Apple's iTunes Music Store, either. More than half clear did not say they were likely to buy songs from either source, an indication perhaps that rather a lot of music fans aren't interested in downloading music using paid online services.

Parks didn't say what percentage of respondents currently use either form of download service, but subscriber and download figures from Apple, Napster and so on suggest it's not yet a high percentage of MP3 player owners, the majority of whom, anecdotal evidence would suggest, continue to derive most of their digital music content by ripping CDs rather than downloads. ®

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