Mastery of Melodic Nuance, Or…iTunes Purchase Points

I certainly agree with Thomas Hawk’s assessment that the one billion itunes downloaded were purchased primarily by suckers.  I guess I’m one of them.  Receiving an iTunes Music Store receipt this morning prompted me to add my 99-cents to the discussion.  A few stats: I’ve had my iPod and have been using iTunes for a year-and-a-half.  I hadn’t purchased a CD prior to that for probably 8 years.  Post-iPod I’ve purchased between 5 and 10 CDs and spent around $150 at the Apple iTunes store.  Before iTunes I listened to streams through WinAmp, which is not even installed on this machine anymore.

First and foremost, DRM is brain-dead, an insult to the purchaser.  As Hawk said, we’re not purchasing the music from Apple, we’re renting it (I forget his exact quote.)

A basic rule of thumb I’ve found is that in the long run it’s always best to purchase a CD if you want the entire album, especially if its an older album.  But there are economic aspects to consider.  It usually costs less–or about the same with shipping–to purchase the original CD used (I rarely buy new CDs) than pay the typical iTunes $9.99 download price.  Again, that’s for older CDs.  For newer, more popular artists, this seems rarely the case from what I’ve seen so it’s less expensive to download the album from Apple than buy the CD.  Keep in mind I’m referring to comparative pricing in purchasing over the Internet rather than at a local CD exchange shop.

An interesting sidebar about Apple’s Fairplay DRM.  I’ve researched Fairplay a bit and discovered that when you get to the maximum five authorized devices you have the opportunity to start again, de-authorizing all existing devices and supporting a fresh authorization for five new devices.  This makes up for Fairplay’s deficiencies in my opinion.  It’s like having a fail-safe.  When my PC crashed a while ago and I had to reinstall the OS (and iTunes) I was bumped up at the Apple Music Store to having TWO Authorized Devices for my purchased music instead of just one.  Idiots!  And there was no way I could change it.  But with the Fairplay “start-again” option, that situation can be rectified if or when I max out on my authorized five device count.  That said, DRM still sucks and my biggest sin in purchasing from iTunes was to give credence to the concept of DRM in any of its forms.

If I could download the tunes I wanted that played on my iPod without DRM elsewhere, I would do so in a heartbeat.  I purchased tunes from (and blogged about) DRM-free Audio Lunchbox, but discovery of new music is so inefficient at ALB that it’s practically impossible, ALB’s recommendation system is incredibly lame, and they rarely have an artist or album I’m looking for in their inventory.  I also thought the quality of music I purchased from Audio Lunchbox could have been better.

The get-it-now factor is a pretty strong draw with iTunes, having the music sitting in your iTunes library in a matter of minutes.  Sometimes that immediate gratification is worth not having purchased the CD and waiting a week or more for it…or getting in your car and driving to the store.  The latter exercise is worth $9.99 right there.  So we have to consider the economic value of getting the music with a single click.

For the purchase of singles I highly recommend iTunes (if it were not for DRM, of course.)  One thing I wanted to do with iTunes was to rebuild my 80’s cassette tape collection of the greatest music of all time that I recorded from the radio, you know, .38 Special, QuarterFlash, Wang Chung, Lynyrd Skynyrd, KISS…those guys.  Purchasing through iTunes was a very efficient way for me to do that quickly.

One thing I know for sure, I need to start spending time at the downtown Burlington CD exchange shops if I want to build my iTunes Music Library.  I know there are some good ones, this being such a hip college town n’all.  Seems to me this is still the best way to buy.  And I don’t get out much, so it will be like a field trip for me.

You also need to consider the number of times a downloaded album is played in iTunes.  ITunes is playing in the background whenever I’m in my office working during the day or geeking at night.  (What’s playing at this moment is A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Lovin’ it!)  So yes, I DEFINITELY get my money from the albums I download from iTunes.  Even if I were to decide to later buy the CDs (used) of albums I purchased at $6.99 or $9.99 from Apple, the cumulative amount of listening of that album would justify the cost.  Heck, if we were still doing Eight Tracks, I would have had to replace them by now anyway.  As a reminder, I put my iTunes Library online a couple months back and among other things you can see my recent album additions here if interested.

Today’s $5.94 Music Store invoice was for the album MusicMagic by Return To Forever, circa 1990.  If you click-through to its Amazon description you’ll find the CD available for $9.98 or used through another seller starting at $7.35.  Is the original CD worth the additional five dollars?  Probably.  But I wouldn’t have yet been able to have listened to “So Long Mickey Mouse” the four times I listened to it so far.

Speaking of Mickey Mouse, did I mention I was going to Disney World next week?

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A long time developer, I was an early adopter of Linux in the mid-90's for a few years until I entered corporate environments and worked with Microsoft technologies like ASP, then .NET. In 2008 I released Sueetie, an Online Community Platform built in .NET. In late 2012 I returned to my Linux roots and locked in on Java development. Much of my work is available on GitHub.