updated 01:40 pm EDT, Thu September 29, 2011
Zune Pass gets cheaper option, hits Canada
Microsoft in an update Thursday recommitted itself to music by launching a new, lower cost Zune Pass. The new option will cost the same $10 per month as competing services but drop the 10 free permanent MP3 tracks from the $15 original. Listeners will also sync to fewer computers and devices, down from six to four, when the plan goes live October 3.
Existing subscribers will be grandfathered in with their accounts, but new subscribers will have only the $10 plan to choose from.
The shrink came side by side with the frequently expected arrival of the Zune Music Marketplace in Canada. The store will have similar per-track and subscription pricing to that of the American store and work across all of Microsoft's platforms, including streaming on the Xbox 360 as well as the usual Zune apps, Zune devices, and Windows Phone. Those committed to a Zune Pass can get a discount at $100 Canadian ($97 USD) for a full year's access.
Both Canada nad the US will get music video streams on the Zune Windows app on October 3 and in the fall on the Xbox 360, most likely in time for the fall Dashboard update.
The price switch-up likely reflects a lack of adoption for Microsoft's $15 plan. While theoretically the best of both the pay-per-song and subscription worlds, it now faces much more competition from services like Spotify, Slacker, and Rdio that can provide on-demand listening for less, albeit without permanent copies. Its cheaper plan eliminates the difference but could make it the de facto choice for Windows Phone owners who might otherwise have gravitated towards a competing app.
Cheaper Zune Pass streaming should go on to eliminate a competitive gap with iOS and Android. The two have helped popularize streaming subscriptions in a normally hesitant US and typically don't need more than $10 per month. Microsoft has acknowledged that Windows Phone hasn't sold well, and while music is only a small factor, the minimum $15 per month for a Zune Pass left Windows Phone owners either paying only by the song and album or else having to look for another service.