Over at his long-established blog (I’m such a second mover), Jason Lefkowitz, friend, colleague, and raconteur extraordinaire, has downloaded, tried, and reviewed the much-ballyhooed iTunes for Windows that swirled out of the mists of the RDF (not that RDF) today from a very cold Cupertino (well, actually the Moscone Center). Continuing our he-said, he-said blogminton, I’m going to riff on his vamp.
He has a couple of gripes, which have been similar to ones I’ve had. However, I’m not ready to write it off just yet. Let’s review, shall we?
Well, let me put it this way. I’m sure that for most people the selection in the iTunes Music Store is fine. However, I came away pretty frustrated at how consistently I was unable to find the artists I was looking for. This may be due more to me having weird tastes than anything else, but it’s still frustrating.
Well, yes, that is. Here’s a neat trick. Go into iTunes (now that all you people can, because, let’s face it, you know you have a pirated copy of XP on that other partition, right?), go to the iTMS. Now in the search field, type just three quick letters. “ELP”.
Whah happah? The lords of bombastic rock, the band most hated by critics EVAR, is not represented? I mean, hello, geeks still have money and use Macs. And geeks like their rock progressive–well, the older, wiser, more pretentious, and infrequently dating of us do.
Likewise, I’ve been willing to break my boycott of anything to do with Satan in order to download music, because that’s what I’ve been wanting them to do for freakin’ ever, if I could find some George Clinton “Atomic Dog”. OK, it’s not much of a desire, but some of us want to get our Bow-wow-wow on, and didn’t even keep any hypothetical MP3s that we might have downloaded at some point, were we criminally minded, which of course we aren’t, being pure as the wind-blown snow on Europa.
Of course, I’m willing to give Apple some time, because of two things:
a) I have weird tastes. Most people like music you don’t have to think about or pay attention to–musical wallpaper. This wallpaper can be very trendy and soothing or edgy and superficial. So, Apple being a money-grubbing corporation, will stock the popular stuff, especially that which keeps in line with its NPR-listening, self-conciously cool client base. As Jason acknowledges, this doesn’t give you first cut at Sam Goody.
2) Record companies are the Evil Undead. We can’t ignore that Apple, in order to avoid being sued like a 12 year old, must indeed negotiate for every grubby little bit and byte they serve. Record companies routinely hold interesting bits of their backlog back to keep non-flavor-of-the-month bands in line and poor. This is on the theory that if you only promote and make accessible the 12 bands you want to sell, sheeple will buy them, lemminglike. Less promotion for bands you don’t want to sell means lower costs per hit, …, then profit! This is actually why their profits are dropping like a government-built spacecraft, because their sales keep obstinately being older bands who didn’t suck as hard, long, or as lovingly. Apple is getting in indie music, but they’re having to make sure it’s 1) not filling up the collection with crap, which a lot of indie is, and ii) isn’t so prevalent it makes the RIAA take notice.
So one label may have signed on, and you’ll see an album from that label, and another won’t have, and you won’t see any of those albums.
Right now, there’s no music service that legally has much of a collection. 400,000 tunes sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. I listen to a selected subset of a pretty small genre to begin with. I don’t have every single track I own ripped to iTunes, and I have 2954 tracks in iTunes, some of which are 20 minutes or longer. I have probably less than 400 CDs. A typical record store has a lot more, and they carry usually just the most current fluff plus a selected back catalog.
And the kicker, of course, is that even if iTunes had the albums, I couldn’t load them onto my Archos Jukebox anyway, since it doesn’t play files in iTunes’ AAC format — currently, only the iPod does that. So it’s either jury-rig some contraption to get the songs from iTunes to AAC to CD to MP3, or bag it and just buy the CD.
So pester Archos to upgrade their software! 😉 I don’t know, I don’t use a portable MP3-player. I have a few computers, and iTunes does let you use your purchased music on 3 computers, as well as burn them to CD. It should also be about 10 minutes from now that the first AAC2MP3 hack arrives, even if it means capturing the audio output of iTunes.
The thing of it is, any legal service is going to have DRM. It’s not important that it be perfect DRM, as long as it doesn’t violate Google’s rule, Don’t Be Evil. MP3 is a nice, DRM-less format. It will never work for any real download service. It’s either that or WMA, and we know what those wonderful laddies let you do with your music:
Plus, of course, it’s designed to sell iPods, and, ultimately, Macs.
But really, you get some cool things for the price of a download of iTunes (free): you can listen to streams of music in playlists on somebody else’s copy of iTunes over your local network. You can collate all the MP3s you have on your system automagically. You can burn your music full-speed for free.
So, is iTunes perfection? Far from it. Is it better than anything else on the market? Nearly so. So give it a shot, and remember your early frustration in a couple of years when iTMS has several million songs and iTunes 4 seems like NSCA Mosaic 2.