As some of you may already know, rhapsody.com has added a mp3-store to its portfolio recently. While I welcome this move, especially since the mp3s are DRM-free, the main drawback with the service, namely its poor user interface, still remains an issue.
The problem as I see it is a lack of a sufficient search-engine for classical music on their site. How is Real hoping to win over classical music audiences, if those customers will not be able to find the music they are interested in?
Like with other music services, rhapsody’s native interface is geared mainly towards popular music, allowing for searches of artist, keyword, track, album, and composer. While it is thus possible to search for the composer “Johann Sebastian Bach,” the results one gets are absolutely useless, since the composer’s page lists all available albums (255) and tracks (6991) – way too many to browse as you will agree.
In addition, track titles are most often not overly informative. What is a user supposed to understand from a title like “Aria“? This kind of naming is fun when playing music quizzes at late-night musicological geek parties, but I doubt that most of us have subscribed to rhapsody for this very reason.
The lack of even rudimentary meta-data is accompanied by an equally annoying lack of meaningful listening and organizing tools. For instance, why a list of “most popular tracks” when it should be a list of “most popular works (or albums)?” In general what needs to be top priority at rhapsody.com is a list of works associated to each composer. For each work all of the recordings of that particular work should be listed. Combine this functionality with user tagging, commenting, and recommendations and you would have a killer application for classical music geeks.
What real/rhapsody should keep in mind is that as soon as we see easy-to-use networked music players which can be operated intuitively by everyone above 40, the market for online classical music services is going to explode. In general, people interested in this kind of music have a bigger buying power and are more willing to pay high prices for the music they consume. In order to win these customers the music industry (and rhapsody in particular) must develop better music players and online catalogues. As it stands right now the rhapsody.com website can’t even compete with the traditional print catalogue in my local CD store (no website, but yes, they still exist), both in terms of ease of use and comprehensiveness.
For those of you who are interested, I have written about this topic before.