Apple's Music Store

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So Apple has debuted its much-anticipated online music service, which boasts cooperation from all of the big five music labels. If you're among the 97 percent of personal computer users who are on a non-Mac system, you'll have to wait until year's end at the earliest to participate in the 99 cents download extravaganza.

Or you could go to similar services that have been around for awhile, such as pressplay or Rhapsody. It's not clear yet whether the underwhelming response to these services will be replicated on Apple's platform, which supposedly has a deeper playlist and better pricing. Still, limiting itself to such a small subset of computer users probably isn't a good first step.

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  1. I have never believed in online pay-for-download services (why pay when Limewire or Kaaza has it for free?), but I downloaded the new program last night, and have already bought a few tracks. Apple makes it so easy, and has a pretty big catalog already.

    When (if) the day comes when PC users have access to a program like iTunes, and the catalog grows to include more songs and live versions, this is a model that will work.

    Playing with Music Store last night, I was as intrigued as I was the first time I logged onto Napster.

  2. The iTunes store is an amazing step forward. Yeah, the stuff is downloadable for free but it takes forever, you don’t know what you’re getting, the sound quality is usually pretty terrible, you can’t really browse by genre, artist, album, etc, you can’t get recomendations the way you can at say Amazon and at the end of the day you are getting something for nothing which depending on your particular worldview may or may not be stealing. Personally, I’d gladly pay 99 cents for a song or 9.99 for an album if all those problems are address, which they are with the iTunes Store. It sucks that Windows users can’t use it yet, but well, breakthroughs in technology making things we love easier to use are why us Mac users bought Macs to begin with.

  3. Well said, JD. I used to dislike Mac snobs…until I became one myself.

  4. I’m afraid the Mr. Gillespie’s final comment, “limiting itself to such a small subset of computer users probably isn’t a good first step,” is his least wise one. For Apple, starting out with its own clientele makes the most sense, and to expect anything else is bizarre.

    In a sense, Apple does unto others what its users are done by: most software programs, for instance, come out in Windows versions before Mac versions (if at all).

    In any case, users of both platforms probably have the best expectation for the new service: it will be easier, more convenient, and prettier-looking than its Windows-based competition.

    But, since less-than-wise comments seem in order, I’ll make mine: why should lovers of good music really care about this technology? MP3’s don’t sound as good as what one can get on CD, and classical music is woefully under-represented in this online format anyway. I could hardly care less how many “songs” one can fit on an iPod, since I almost never listen to these dreadful “songs” anyway. People who only listen to the popular music (and, like Windows users, they make up for 95 percent of the population) suffer from deadened aesthetic senses. MP3 is a technology almost perfect for music, like rock ‘n’ roll, from which you can compress out a huge chunk of the soundscape and still not care. Most of it isn’t worth listening to anyway. (I’ve experimented with MP3’s – in Linux and in the older Mac OS’s – and it really isn’t that great for music of any complexity. If you hanker to hear Ives’s Fourth Symphony, or Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, DON’T audit these masterworks on MP3; you’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, MP3 is not bad for children’s music, such as most rock.)

  5. On the less-than-wise note: these files are not encoded as MP3s, but in AAC, which is an MPEG-4 based format. Supposedly it sounds better at a given bitrate.

    On the other hand, given that such things usually come out of computer speakers or headphones of less than Stax quality, I’ve honestly never heard much of a difference. Certainly the degradation is on the order of a reasonably good cassette deck.

    To me, given the speakers I usually have, Bartok over MP3 is fine, and should be slightly better in AAC. Plus I can’t carry hours of symphonies in a playing-card deck-sized device with CDs. With an iPod the entire Ring Cycle and all of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas fit comfortably in something you can take with you jogging.

    But you are completely right that Apple does everything it does with an eye to selling more…Apples.

  6. It’s overpriced.

  7. The offering is limited to a subset of a subset : those Mac users outside the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave cannot use it. Shame !!
    Xavier

  8. Shame, perhaps, but berating Apple for not providing the music store beyond U.S. borders is a waste of your energy. Many artists are on different labels outside the U.S., and Apple will have to cut deals with all of them to be able to offer an adequate version of the service overseas. There are probably also knotty legal issues that need to be worked out, not to mention the in-progress formation of legislation in the EU that’s not unlike the DMCA. Try petitioning record labels to work with Apple; I’m sure Apple wants to work with them.

    My problem with the Apple Music Store is that its catalog is drawn solely from the big labels, and my taste tends toward artists on smaller labels. Some artists are under-represented (the only Radiohead album currently offered is OK Computer) and some obvious choices aren’t there at all (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones). The sources from which Apple draws its music need to expand.

    That said, it’s decent start: there’s a lot of freedom for the music purchaser; it’s legal (and therefore unlikely to spawn preposterous $8 billion lawsuits against college students); and it’s fast.

    One other thing: of course it’s Mac-only. What’d you expect? Apple’s always going to reward their own first. It will be interesting to see if Apple offers an iTunes for Windows, or works with a third-party developer; and once that’s available, it’ll be interesting to see how Microsoft responds.

  9. Pressplay and Rhapsody probably received underwhelming responses because they impose annoying restrictions on their customers. I checked their web sites. Rhapsody won’t let you save music to your hard drive, and only allows some songs to be burned to CDs. Pressplay lets you download songs, but after you exceed your meager monthly quota of “portable downloads,” they aren’t playable after your subscription ends. From what I’ve read, Apple’s restrictions are less onerous: You can play your music from only 3 computers, and you can burn only 10 copies of one playlist.

  10. Another crucial difference, as far as I can tell, is that Apple’s “restrictions” are mostly cosmetic. True, you can only share with 3 other Macs at a time, but you can change this list whenever you want, so you could share with nine or 100, but you have to keep cycling everyone thru your list. And the “10 copies of a playlist” deal is pretty easy to get around — just start a new playlist with the same songs, change one song, or change the order. BOOM! New playlist, 10 more CDs. Much better than Pressplay’s or the others’ draconian fees (charging you MORE to burn music you already bought onto a CD or to put it on a portable device? Songs EXPIRING if you stop subscribing?). Still not as good as eMusic, which offers unlimited, unexpiring mp3s to do with as you will for $10 a month. However, eMusic has mostly non-major-label artists. This Apple thing is definitely a step in the right direction!

  11. Most hardcore classical collectors I know still prefer LP’s over CD’s. Not sure how DVD-Audio and SACD’s are doing in the classical market…

  12. “Apple does everything it does with an eye to selling more…Apples”

    Brilliant insight. What would you suggest they do?

    Why is AAC a bad move? First, it’s indisputably “better” from a pure encoding perspective. Secondly, since the service was only going to work on iTunes, QuickTime and iPods anyhow, the fact that AAC can’t be played elsewhere is irrelevant.

  13. eh? I never said that AAC was bad. In fact, I was responding to the argument dissing the service based on the alleged faults of MP3s, which don’t apply to Apple’s service.

    I also never said that selling Apples was a bad move either. And apparently the insight is some level of brilliant because there are a bunch of posts including the *parent* that wonder why they are “selling to such a small share of the market.” They do it so you want it, and if they do enough such things, you might move to their computing platform, and then their segment of the market won’t be so small.

    Please read my post a bit more thoroughly.

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