Friday, September 28, 2007

Toes in the Water

If you're technologically challenged, or just have a life, you may not have heard that Amazon is jumping into the online music store business. Since any DRM they could use would not be compatible with iPods (Apple does not license Fairplay), they have chosen to offer unencumbered MP3 files (following in Apple's footsteps after Apple negotiated a similar deal -- in their case for unencumbered AAC files -- with EMI).

Songs and albums are generally cheaper on Amazon than the DRM-locked versions on the iTunes Music Store. Songs most often cost 89 cents, though songs longer than seven minutes are nearly two dollars, and songs longer than fourteen minutes are even more. A strange variable pricing scheme, but one imagines the record companies have to get that camel's nose into the tent somehow. Not all the record companies have climbed aboard the DRM-free wagon, so Amazon currently has about one third of the offerings of Apple.

I imagine the fondest dreams of the RIAA cabal involve selling cheap to cut the legs out from under Apple during future contract negotiations, and once Apple has buckled (or simply been made irrelevant) we will see gradually escalating prices at Amazon. Probably much multi-tier nonsense, with 'popular' tunes going for $5 a pop, and older standards costing 'only' $1.98. I don't really think I'm being cynical here. But as a counterweight to this viewpoint, I don't think that the record companies will be able to push prices back up across the board, and that instead, this step away from DRM will just become the expected default. Sorry, RIAA...

Last night I went to my daughter's school for the usual yearly grind of 'meeting' all her teachers in a cattle call wandering from classroom to classroom, collecting bits of paper, but not really being able to talk to the teachers, since we were all on the clock, literally (hear the bell, move on). So this morning, as a treat for disrupting my routine evening, I've dipped my toes into the Amazon pool, buying a copy of Under Pressure, by David Bowie and Queen (really, to me, just Freddie Mercury). It's a very acceptable encoding of the song, and now that I've looked at the album it came from (Best of Bowie) I almost wish I'd just gotten the whole thing.

So now I'm getting my music from three vendors, eMusic, iTunes and Amazon MP3. Will I forsake the iTunes Music Store for a cheaper vendor? I already have, giving preference to eMusic when they carry the same artist as iTunes. This is partly for the average price of a song on eMusic, and partly due to the fact that they don't use DRM. So I'm not, in my opinion, playing into the hands of the RIAA, as I won't purchase a song for $5, ever. I won't purchase a song separately for $1.98, either, though I'll buy it if it is part of an album I'm buying, and the average price of the songs works out to 99 cents or less. An example of that would be this album by Hawkwind, where there are multiple songs priced at $1.94 (that dreaded seven minute limit, damn bandwidth costs !) but the whole (double) album comes in under $23. I don't think I'll actually buy this album, as I only want two or three of the songs, but you get the gist.

Also, Thom Yorke, get over yourself. OK Computer is not such a precious unified work of art that it can only be experienced as a complete entity. Sure, I liked Kid A, which I bought on CD years ago, but I only want Paranoid Android, and I'm not willing to pay $8.99 for it. 'Album Only' indeed!

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