Mac Scope

BuyMusic vs. the iTunes Music Store, Two Weeks of Disasters

Stephen Van Esch - 2003.08.06

BuyMusic (don't bother following the link unless you're using IE 5.0 or higher on a Windows PC - others are not welcome at the site. ed) has reached the end of its second week of operation, and things seem to be going, well, less than swimmingly for the PC upstart. Let's put this in perspective, shall we.

After 16 days of operation, the iTunes Music Store had sold 2 million songs. Industry analysts continued to swoon over the service, and everyone seemed happy.

On the BuyMusic front, things are looking decidedly less rosy. The service has, however, clearly sold a song or two. "Not millions," though, according to the company megaphone/lampshade on his head and life of the 1999 party Scott Blum. This statement is even sadder considering the sheer size of the Windows market.

Somehow Apple managed to sell 2 million songs to a very small percentage of personal computer users. But BuyMusic can't sell millions to a market more than ten times the size? Not good. In any event, if BuyMusic intends to be the king of the pay-per-download hill, it has a ways to go.

Not that Apple first two weeks were picture perfect. The fly in the ointment was a "flaw" in iTunes that allowed users to share their playlists over the Net. Shades of Napster! Things were quickly sorted out with a new version of iTunes, and the love-in continued.

Now let's see how BuyMusic fared in its first two weeks of operation.

One parody site sprang up, Don'tBuyMusic.com, aimed at demonstrating how lame BuyMusic's service and marketing tactics are. One boycott site has appeared, BoycottBuyMusic.com. BuyMusic has managed to generate a number of customer complaints that they promptly mishandled. BuyMusic has been knocked for copying Apple commercials. BuyMusic's DRM (digital rights management) system has been savaged by The Globe and Mail, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and TechTV. BuyMusic tunes can't be transferred to portable music players. Some artists feel they are being ripped off. BuyMusic may be guilty of false advertising.

The list could go on, I'm sure. Not exactly an auspicious beginning. And Apple should be grateful that a company of such ineptitude was the first out of the gate. With all the bad press being generated by BuyMusic, the iTunes Music Store comes across as a stroke of genius rather than just a great service. It's becoming clear that any BuyMusic customer will likely come to the conclusion that, while buying music online is a great idea, they'd rather wait for the Windows version of iTunes.

People also seem to be much more jaded about startups than they used to be (surprise, surprise). While BuyMusic managed to generate some good old-fashioned hype, folks were quick to see the crud. Any bets on when BuyMusic will launch an IPO? Anyone? C'mon, Scott Blum will throw in the Brooklyn Bridge for nothing.

The way things are going for BuyMusic, Apple will obliterate them when the iTunes Music Store comes to Windows. And if Apple doesn't, you can bet that someone else will.

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Stephen Van Esch is the founder and president of the E-learning Foundry, an online training resource for Mac users. Steve loves the Mac and is doubly bilingual, since he's also fluent in Windows and French.

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