Sunday, April 06, 2008

itunes - you got competition!

So, lets start from the beginning...
I admit, I've downloaded some songs from the internet back when Napster was new. I discovered Napster just when it was starting to cause all sorts of trouble. I knew it wouldn't last forever, so I grabbed some songs that i felt "justified" in doing so. For example, I had/have a large cassette tape collection. So rather than try and convert all my tapes into an mp3 format, it was easier for me to grab the songs off napster. So in that sense, I paid for them already. I will admit, I grabbed some songs with no justification, other than I believed the record industry had made a TON of money off of my purchases since I was a young teen. I started out with 45's as a young kid, along with some albums. When A young teen, I got back into 45's and albums (my favorite music store was "Peaches"! - now you might be able to tell how old I am now?)
Anyway, When it became clear to me that napster was headed for legal troubles, I stopped downloading. I soon switched to limewire, but I only limited my downloads to songs I could not find anywhere else. In other words, If I could buy them legally, I would, but since I could not find the cd, and any local stores, I would go to limewire.
(we're only talking a few songs here, it's not like I was downloading a huge library).
Then along came itunes.
I started to feel guilty in not buying songs, and I felt, that the new itunes store that offered songs at ¢99 each was a fair price to pay. So since then I've bought all my music via itunes (again, if itunes didn't have what I was looking for, I would see if limewire did - but itunes has a vast library, so that's rare.)
So just last week...
I forget even where I saw it (on the internet somewhere I'm sure), I heard something to the effect of " has gained a foothold in the mp3 selling business and is now #2 in sales".
One of the big selling points of amazon... NO DRM!!! (DRM = Digital Rights Management = I can play an mp3 that I bought on my computer, my ipod, put it into a homemade itunes movie, bring it into garageband, etc, with no limitations. Wikipedia) IF I used an alternative mp3 player, I could play them there too.
Well, tonight, I decided to check it out.
I might be a new convert now.
A lot of their songs are priced at ¢89 (compared to apple's ¢99). AND, on a whim (after hearing my sister's itunes/soundtrack post, and seeing Pink Floyd, I decided it was time for me to embrace Pink again. (That's a whole other story for another time as to why I put a self-imposed ban on myself from ever listening to Pink again.)
So, I stopped over to the amazon store. Guess what... For "The Wall" (which is a double disk album with 26 songs) they were only charging $8.99!! At first, I thought this was a typo, or maybe that was for one of the disks and not both. But sure enough, $8.99 for all the songs. Wow! (I know, you say it louder ;) Itunes was charging the full price of about $26 for the same songs - AND Amazon has the benefit of being DRM free!
So a no brainer there.
It was a little confusing at first, I had to download a small "helper" program from Amazon, and the install/download process is slightly confusing, but I figured it out pretty easily.
So, I think from now on, I'll be checking Amazon first for any new songs I want, then itunes.
Kudos Amazon.
(ahem... apple, are you listening to your customers?)

PS> Music is amazing! I've not heard some of these Floyd songs in over 20 years, yet as I listen to them now as I type this, I can remember most of the lyrics like it was yesterday! Music and memory are a powerful combination.

PS2> I'm aware apple has toyed with some DRM free songs. But I still don't understand it. Something about having a choice, or paying extra or something? anyone understand it, please leave a comment.


Anonymous said...

That is a no brainer. My past experiences are a lot like yours also. I will say in Apple's defense that it's the LABELS - not Apple - that dictate if they can sell the songs free of DRM. Apple is not toying with DRM free songs, the record labels are.

Anonymous said...

Well Apple have nothing to do with the availability of DRM free tunes on iTunes - For your interest about 1/3 of the tracks on iTunes are available as iTunes Plus format which is what you are talking about and at a better quality than the MP3s on Amazon.

Nope the record companies are unfortunately to blame as they are trying desperately to create a competitor to the iTunes ecosystem. They desperately want to charge you MORE money for current releases rather than go for a one price fits all.

So the initial prices may be cheap for old and back catalogue stuff but if they get their way they're gonna wanna charge you a premium for new stuff.

Anonymous said...

Apple used to charge more for song with no DRM, however that is no longer the case. Also songs without DRM come in a higher quality bite rate. One thing to note - MP4, used by Apple, provides a higher quality recording at the same bit rate then MP3, used by Amazon (although you may not be able to hear the difference, some folks can).

Anonymous said...

Sorry, meant to point out that DRM free at Apple's iTunes is higher bit-rate than the non-DRM free songs. Also Apple automatically gives you the DRM free version if it is available.

cyen said...

Thanks Anon for the explanations!
I know steve jobs has said in the past that he thought all music should come DRM free, but I'm not so sure about apple being at the mercy of the labels. Apple has been in the position of dictating prices to the labels even (for now). I found this article on Salon on some possible "alternate" reasons why apple uses DRM (or used to)...

The itunes plus thing has confused me. First you could pay extra to get DRM-Free songs (at a supposedly better quality - even though most people can't hear that quality). Now, they have eliminated that extra price, but according to their faq page, if I want to update my old DRM songs to the new version, I still have to pay extra for it? huh?

Even the term MP4 is confusing here. I understand it's a better quality (if you can hear it), but it too is proprietary from Apple. So I'm pretty sure an MP4 file won't play on a zune.
I found this explanation over on wikipedia under Mp4...
"The .m4p is usually used as the music format for the iTunes Store DRM copy protected content, while .m4a is now being used by the iTunes Store for DRM-free, unprotected music files and as an export option in QuickTime Pro."

So now we have mp3, mp4, m4p, m4a files... you can see my confusion :)

In spite of my confusion, and doubts, I DO appreciate your responses and attempt at clearing things up for me. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Saying AAC is proprietary to Apple repeats uninformed disinformation promoted by the Music Industry.

Unencrypted AAC, or MP4 (.m4a) audio, is not proprietary to Apple, it's an open standard supported by many MP3 players (Zen, Zune, SanDisk, Walkman) and game consoles (PlayStation, Wii), and phone makers (Nokia, Palm), most car audio players (Kenwood, Pioneer, Sony, Alpine, Clarion, Panasonic, JVC).and it's also the defacto HD audio format. It wasn't even created by Apple, and it was created in part by the creator of MP3.

Check your facts:

Partners in Grime said...

Can't hear the quality? Are you kidding? My dog loves it!

cyen said...

Hi Anon,
If think if you'll re-read my comment, I did not say that AAC is proprietary. AAC is not the same thing as MP4 (or m4p, or m4a). AAC is a type of compression encoding. After the sound file has been compressed, it can then be saved under different formats, one of which is MP4.
If you look up MP4 on wikipedia, it says "MPEG-4 Part 14 was based on Apple’s QuickTime container format."
Mp4 was developed by the ISMA (internet streaming media alliance), of which Apple is a member (along with Sony, and a bunch of other companies). So when I said mp4 was proprietary, I meant that you had to PAY for license fees in order to play an mp4 file. The original Zune was not able to play an mp4 file (they can now, I'm assuming because they bought the license). Though a quick google search and you'll find that most people say that it's best to convert an mp4 file into a wmv file in order to play it on a zune.

So, I guess to sum things up, Mp4 is still a proprietary format (in that it's not open source). We could get into a whole other debate as to what Proprietary, open source, and open industry standard means, but honestly, my brain hurts.

I guess, I felt the need to respond because your comment sounds accusatory by calling me uninformed. If you called me some-what informed, I wouldn't argue with that :)

I didn't even get into what "fairplay" is (a digital rights management technology created by APPLE. So the itunes songs are technically mp4 with a fairplay encryption. THAT is proprietary. (which was my whole point to begin with).
This sort of DRM that was created by apple, is what makes me question Job's statement about wishing all music was DRM free. I think Apple has to take some of the blame here, and you can't just push it off on the music companies.

Anonymous said...

I'm the first Anon poster. You said "This sort of DRM that was created by apple, is what makes me question Job's statement about wishing all music was DRM free. I think Apple has to take some of the blame here, and you can't just push it off on the music companies."

I blame it all on the labels. The labels would not allow Apple to sell music without DRM in the first place, so Apple created "Fairplay" to satisfy the labels. Now the labels are letting Amazon sell music without DRM, but not Apple. Only EMI is letting Apple sell DRM free tracks, no other labels are, that's the reason for the limited number of DRM free songs on iTunes.

Don't you find it slightly hypocritical that the labels still sell CD's everwhere (which have no DRM) and now let Amazon sell music digitally without DRM, but won't let Apple sell their music without DRM. The labels are shooting themselves in the foot.

Anonymous said...

I'm the second anonymous poster again.

Microsoft and the Labels are VERY upset that Apple's lenient Fairplay won over Microsoft's draconian DRM system that they wanted to foister on us.

The number of companies that use it that have closed recently leaving people with completely dead libraries is pretty scary.

Anonymous said...

" but I'm not so sure about apple being at the mercy of the labels. Apple has been in the position of dictating prices to the labels even (for now)."

I suppose this line sums up the frustration from reading your blog post. That is, not only is this sentiment incorrect, but it makes me wonder how many others think the same thing.

Apple has been very clear that they do not want DRM at all. EFI was the first major label to allow DRM free content. That's what allowed Apple to initiate the iTunes Plus tracks. They are now the same price as the DRM tracks. Likewise, if Apple wanted to keep DRM, why would they do it for some labels and not for others?

Much as been written about this and I've blogged about it as well. The other 3 labels have publicly commented that they are unhappy with Apple's dominance in the music distribution business. That is, they have too much negotiation power. Apple is now #1 overall, not just #1 on-line. As such, the other 3 vendors are actively trying to create competition for Apple. They are doing this by offering DRM free music to companies like Amazon, but not offering the same to Apple. Do a little research, this is nothing new.

While Amazon is establishing a market presence, it hasn't put a dent in iTunes sales. #2 on-line is a VERY distant #2. Further, in order for Amazon to offer such lower prices, the music labels end up selling their product to Amazon for less money. Likewise, the music labels are shooting themselves in the foot. Again, this is nothing new.

I know many people that try to be honest and look for DRM free tracks on iTunes (iTunes plus tracks). If they don't exist, they just go to Limewire.