Music Week Hands-On: Time, Wallet in Deep, Deep Trouble

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Date: Monday, April 28th, 2003, 22:04
Category: Archive

Well, folks, we should have a great week of music coverage, including in-depth iTunes / iPod coverage as well as info on making your own music, as long as I can pull myself away from iTunes Music Store long enough to work on it — assuming credit card companies don’t pull me away first. We’ll start out with an examination of the user experience of the software. Click ‘read more’ for the whole story.


Well, folks, we should have a great week of music coverage, including in-depth iTunes / iPod coverage as well as info on making your own music, as long as I can pull myself away from iTunes Music Store long enough to work on it — assuming credit card companies don’t pull me away first. We’ll start out with an examination of the user experience of the software.

Bad news: library depth. The library is still not deep enough. The software easily trounces your local Sam Goody, but the potential appeal of downloadable music is being able to search for anything and find it. I found that browsing I was quickly maxing out my credit card, but searching was often disappointing. There’s clearly a lot of breadth, but depth is missing in some areas — notably classical music, which is downright embarassing. This is admittedly a glass half-empty / half-full situation, but at the same time, it has to be Apple’s number one priority moving forward.

Bad news: cost. Cost is the other big disadvantage. I actually think the .99 per song cost isn’t bad at all: all my music listening these days is digital, so I don’t view a CD as being worth more. $10/album is much better than the brick-and-mortar approach. But Apple desperately needs to add a bulk discount option. Think of the music club model: companies like BMG already know they can slash margins and sell in volume to music junkies like me. Why not a sliding scale for downloadable music? It’d hook customers much faster. Obviously Apple can’t compete with illegal free services on price, but it can compete with these and CD stores by encouraging better quality, better selection, and higher-volume purchasing.

Good news: library depth. Yes, I’ll list this under two categories. The thing is, this is the best online selection we’ve ever seen. True, it’s harder to find rare selections than on the file-sharing services, but every track sounds beautiful, better than MP3, and you can almost always find a whole album. And while I’d still like to see more, there’s still plenty to keep my credit card happy. But by far, Apple’s smartest decision is including exclusive content, and charging for that. Exclusives are likely to sell even better than favorite singles. I’ll admit it: I’m hooked on getting all the tracks I can’t get anywhere else for my favorite artists. The service is likely to appeal to others like me. It’s so obvious, I’m surprised no one else has focused on this as their model. Radio stations are overplaying the album mix of hit tracks, anyway. People will spend money for something different.

Best news: interface. The single best thing about iTunes 4 and the iTunes Music Store is its interface. Mark my words: years from now, we’ll laugh about the days when we wondered if music purchasing would go online. And whatever happens to Apple, people will recall that for years afterward, everyone wanted to copy iPod, iTunes, and iTunes Music Store. Being able to click once and download music right into your player is simply ingenious. It takes a little longer to realize there’s some depth for exploration. Aside from the quick access to exclusive content, music videos, and featured artists, which is very much appreciated, it’s nice to have a “drill down” display on the top of the screen. For more detailed searching, I was frustrated at first, until I started making more liberal use of the ‘browse’ button. This is the quickest way to, for example, see all the songs by an artist instead of being limited to album-by-album looking.

Verdict: Hide your wallet. Put post-it notes on your mouse that say, “do not touch iTunes.” This thing is seriously addictive for serious music fans. I’m sure I’ll get flamed by devotees of file swapping, but, hey, that’s why we have a comments feature!

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