Monday, January 07, 2008

Bought my first MP3 album from Amazon

I was looking for some new rock to listen to, and ironically I ended up buying Led Zeppelin's Mothership, the remastered greatest hits package released back in November. The buying process from Amazon is very good. About the only negative I could possibly point to was that it wasn't immediately obvious that once the download completed, the songs were going to be automatically added to iTunes.

Why I didn't buy from iTunes
If you look at Mothership on iTunes, which is how I learned about the release in the first place, you can see the album listed for $13.99. Which given the 24 tracks for that price, is $0.58 a track and seems like a good deal. Amazon undercuts by a dollar, $12.99, for $0.54 a track. That might be enough by itself, but I of course knew Amazon is selling a 256 kbps MP3, and unfortunately Apple is only seeing a 128 kbps AAC (really wish this was named MP4) DRMed file. Seems like nearly a no brainer to buy from Amazon, so why am I still questioning my purchase?

I just did exactly what the music labels want
Led Zeppelin's label is Atlantic Recoding Corp, owned by Warner Bros. The labels all want consumers, who in general hate DRM and I am no exception, to get used to buying legal digital downloads from anyplace except iTunes. iTunes, the brand, is synonymous with legal digital downloads, and the labels hate it. They are giving something to iTunes competitors, MP3 DRM-free high quality tracks, they won't give Apple (with the notable exception of EMI, who with Apple got the whole DRM free thing rolling). Apple wants to hold the line on pricing per track, with the only bundling concept, the album, also held low on pricing, all DRM free. If Apple's share of digital downloads (all media types) falls, the labels negotiating position is greatly improved to mandate price increases. This is why I feel bad about following the label's carrot. I know if I take solely my interest into account, I would always choose Amazon over iTunes when tracks are DRMed on iTunes, but DRM free on Amazon. If iTunes and Amazon had the exact same DRM free tracks, I take iTunes every time because iTunes uses AAC/MP4, the files are smaller for the same bit rate, and require less device battery power to decode. But I feel like I must continue to buy DRMed tracks on iTunes and hope for a continued migration path to iTunes Plus tracks when this eventually gets sorted out. I am no lawyer, but a lay interpretation might be that Amazon is in collusion with the labels and studios to unseat Apple as the dominant digital download distributor, then return as much power to the labels/studios as possible through whatever price increases, content bundling, "flexible pricing" they want. What the music labels want most of all is to not have to listen to, in their minds, Apple's crazy, pro-consumer unbundling of all content (songs, episodes) and relatively fixed pricing. They want a return to $16 a CD for one song you want, or even that price point on albums. I don't know how else to reinforce, other than completely not buying, that Apple's model is the one I find acceptable (and even there I think prices are too high by 20%) by sacrificing my short-term self-interest for the greater long term good of a reasonable digital download pricing structure. Since Apple is the only company that has demonstrated a willingness to stand-up to the labels/studios regarding content pricing, I will continue buying from iTunes, even if that means DRMed tracks. Velvet Revoler's Libertad, here I come.