Music Week: iTunes Pricing Analyzed

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Date: Monday, April 28th, 2003, 23:41
Category: Archive

Already, debate has heated up about pricing on the iTunes Music Store, both in and outside the music community. Competing services claim their unlimited monthly fees are a better option to Apple’s pricey .99 per song / $4.95 – $9.95 an album. Some users are already complaining that traditional CDs are a better deal. It all depends on how you look at it. Click ‘read more’ for the full story.


Already, debate has heated up about pricing on the iTunes Music Store, both in and outside the music community. Competing services claim their unlimited monthly fees are a better option to Apple’s pricey .99 per song / $4.95 – $9.95 an album. Some users are already complaining that traditional CDs are a better deal. It all depends on how you look at it.

iTunes vs. Singles: If you want single tracks, iTunes is clearly the best deal — even if one track on a CD is likely to get skipped over later, iTunes is a better value. It’d be nice to see shorter tracks cheaper: 30 seconds of the Flaming Lips can set you back the same amount as a 9 minute exclusive. Exclusives are a big part of Apple’s edge in this category. The most commonly downloaded tracks? Apple’s exclusives and b-sides that weren’t enough to justify a whole album (like the couple of unique tracks on the latest Barenaked Ladies compilation).

iTunes vs. Albums: Even albums are a good deal — if iTunes has the album available for purchase all at once. With even “bargain” CDs going for $13 and up these days, ten bucks is a good deal. Used CDs are cheaper, but not after you figure shipping for Internet CDs, so only your local used store can compete. But when Apple requires you to download entire albums one track at a time, downloading actually costs more. And of course, this is all assuming you can find the music you want, which is why you’re likely to still buy some of your music at a CD store, while alternately lovers of plastic discs may still hop by iTunes for the exclusive tracks. So the verdict is still out on this one. Pricing aside, it’s certainly nice to get the instant gratification of getting a whole CD at once. Apple should aim for same-day release of online albums.

iTunes vs. Subscription: $9.95 unlimited sounds good, until you face brutal digital rights management features that are Mac-incompatible and prevent use on MP3 players even for PC users. And then there’s the issue of selection. But Apple should consider a lower cost option — say, .49 / track, 4.95 / CD — for a monthly fee or (even better) as a sliding scale for heavy downloaders. Er, not that I’m in that category.

iTunes vs. File Swapping: Aye, there’s the rub. Hard to undercut “free” on value. Certainly, you can acquire music faster with iTunes, and often substantially better quality. iTunes is likely to catch on with some people who never hassled with downloadable services — a substantial number, believe it or not, outside the world of college campuses. But it’s still too soon to say how many will gravitate towards spending money away from getting something for free. iTunes is much more fun to use than LimeWire, but I have to admit that with the cost I’m at least partially motivated out of a sense of responsibility to make sure artists get paid. (I’ll cover how iTunes fits into the ethical battle later this week.)

So what do you think? Has digital music purchasing finally arrived? And are you ready to go from file swapping to credit card one-clicking?

Stay tuned for more on iTunes, including an examination of digital rights management issues, how this all might fit into the industry’s battle with music piracy, and what Apple was thinking with that strangely unattractive interface tweak.

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