Mac Musings

Good Things and Bad Things about the iTunes Music Store

Dan Knight - 2004.09.29 - Tip Jar

There's a lot to like about Apple's iTunes Music Store, the most successful legal online music service to date.

iTunes itself is great. It lets you rip, mix, and burn your own CDs, whether so you can listen to your favorite tunes while driving or as a gift of love songs to that special someone in your life. I rarely listen to music on my Mac, but there's almost always an iTunes-created CD in my car stereo.

If only that stereo could play MP3 CDs - better yet if it could play the AAC files iTunes and the iTunes Music Store use.

Drawbacks

Speaking of iTMS, it's a very user-friendly service, but it's not without some drawbacks.

For instance, they have 800,000 tracks, but no Garth Brooks, the Beatles, Natalie Cole's Unforgettable album, or a host of other very well known entertainers. If you want their music in your iTunes library, you have to buy a CD or use an illegal MP3 swapping service.

Did I say 800,000 tracks? While it may technically be true, are all five tracks of "For Once In My Life" or "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" (both by Stevie Wonder) different, or are three or four the same recording taken from different albums? I'd guess maybe half of the 800,000 tunes are duplicates - same recording session, different album.

The iTunes Music Store is smart enough to tell you if you've already purchased a track, but not if it's the same track from another album. iTunes also doesn't warn you if you've already ripped a copy of that song from your CD collection.

Benefits

There are a lot of good things as well:

You don't have to buy the whole album to get a song. Repeat: You don't have to buy a whole album to get a song.

You don't have always have to wait for the album to be released before you can buy singles. Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman" was a hot seller on iTMS a month or two before her album was released.

You can preview a tune before you buy it to make sure the version of "Too Much of a Good Thing Is a Good Thing" is the song you heard on the radio, not another song with the same title.

Unlike CD clubs, there's no obligation to buy 13 CDs over the next two years, no cards to return in the mail. Unlike some other online music services, there's no subscription fee - and you don't lose the songs you paid for if you quit the service. With iTMS, you choose what to buy and when, and you can keep your tracks forever.

You can support your favorite artist(s) without paying $16 for a newly released CD (or $7.99 on a bargain bin special). You can buy the whole album or just the tracks you like. And you don't need to run down to the store to do it. If you have a favorite song, you can buy it and know that part of your 99¢ is going to those who created it.

You can add your favorite new tunes from the radio to your personal collection for just a few bucks a month, far less than you'd pay for a single CD.

For the first time in Apple history, they're involved in an affiliate program - at least iTMS is. I sometimes wish they'd do the same thing with the Apple Store online. It sure would be nice to get a little something for all the customers we've sent their way over the years....

All in all, iTMS has a lot more to commend it than to complain about. I'm sure Apple has no control over which artists won't sign, and it's the artists themselves who lose the most by not offering their music online (we, their fans, suffer as well).

A bit more intelligence in iTunes and iTMS should make it possible to warn users that they already have "My Girl" by the Temptations and ask "Are you sure you want to buy another copy of this song?"

Maybe the next iTunes update can perform that kind of search.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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