There is an inherent difference between receiving information from some service like radio or television, and going out and acquiring information at a music store, video shop or filesharing network. In the first instance, information is being ‘pushed’ at you by some programming network, and in the second instance, you are ‘pulling’ information to you. The first is passive and the second is active.
There is little doubt as to the success and popularity of the push services. Radio and TV have grown to be hugely profitable businesses reaching hundreds of millions of listeners and viewers all while pushing content to willing consumers. People make the argument that these services became popular because they were free and did not cost anything. This is not entirely true. As consumers we are deluged with advertising from these services and we do pay for that advertising as part of the cost of goods that we purchase, often as a result of being influenced by the ads. It is not really free. And, you don’t own or store the programming. It is either on or it is not on when you listen or view the service.
Cable TV began as a paid push service. Millions of consumers pay a subscription fee for cable and endure the advertising on top of that. Cable TV has since evolved into a paid push/pull service with the addition of Pay Per View and On-Demand. You actually have to pay more to pull the programming to you than the basic push service costs.
There is a debate today over music subscription services (push) and paid download music services (pull) and whether one approach is better than the other. Apple’s position with iTunes is that they don’t believe that people are interested in a subscription service – so you can only pay to download music. BUT, they have also released a podcast service which allows you to ‘subscribe’ to feeds – albeit for free at the moment. Seems like a bit of a mixed message to me.
Services such as Napster 2, Rhapsody and Yahoo music all have a combination of push and pull services allowing you to stream music programmed for you, and letting you pay to download tracks. This approach makes a lot more sense than simply a download service. Many people argue that subscription services that provide tracks that play for you only as long as you continue to pay for the service are not what they want. They claim instead that they want to "own" the music – like a CD – rather than "rent" the music. The point that they are missing is that you never have really owned the music you purchased on CD, you simply licensed it from the labels for your personal use.
This debate will rage on in the years to come as digital music services try out different models and features to try and find the optimum mix and consumer satisfaction. Look forward to seeing services that provide downloading, streaming, and file-sharing – and a whole lot more.
Here is a good article on this subject from the Hollywood Reporter special fall 2005 report on the future of entertainment.