While iTunes is the undisputed king of the mountain for digital music, video - well, just about every type of pay-to-download media - it's a big mountain and there are a lot of different companies sitting comfortably in the foothills like the new Napster, the Amazon store (U.S. only) and Puretracks.
One of those foothill dwellers is Zune, which always seemed like a promising but ultimately half-assed effort on behalf of Microsoft - more a "me too" than a serious attempt to contend with iTunes. Their Zune HD music players are pretty good as far as the hardware goes, but were never marketed or supported all that well and were a year late to Canada. Once again, it just seemed like Microsoft decided it simply had to offer the Zune HD to compete with Apple, but didn't give much thought to actually selling the players.
But with the introduction of Windows Phone 7 on no fewer than 10 smart phones last month, and integration with both the Microsoft Live Marketplace and Zune Marketplace, Microsoft appears to be giving Zune some new life.
Last week, Zune announced annual memberships for around $150. It's not available in Canada yet (U.S., U.K., France, Italy and Spain to start), but it's coming. And it's awesome.
Rather than download songs and albums from iTunes, Zune is a subscription-based service that gives you unlimited access to a library of 10 million songs (!), videos, games and other content for an annual fee. You also get to download and keep 10 songs a month, which is a value of $10.
So, doing the math, you'll pay about $12.50 a month for 10 million songs that you can download to your computer/Zune player/WP7 Phone/Xbox 360,and get 10 songs to keep and do whatever you like with worth $10. Under that equation, you're really only paying $2.50 a month or $30 per year - assuming you were going to pay to download 120 songs a year anyway.
As to why the release in Canada is delayed (no date was given), that can usually be explained by how difficult it is to deal with our artists unions and the Canadian Recording Industry Association, Canadian content requirements and our bilingual requirements. Still, it's only a matter of time and an affordable, legal, unlimited option worth considering.
Ready for Zero nearly ready to go
While it's still in beta, a recent donation of over a quarter of a million dollars from various tech industry philanthropists should be enough to finally get the Ready for Zero website up and running. The purpose of the site is to get the roughly 100 million Americans who carry a credit card balance from month to month to quickly pay off that staggering, $900 billion debt load. Basically, you'll be able to give this site your credit card information and they will coach you down to a zero balance by suggesting ways you can save money or manage your debt.