Tags: itunes

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Amazapple

Amazon is selling MP3s. Right now it’s US only (and I’ve got a sneaky US account on the side) but hopefully this will reach foreign shores before too long. Straight out of the starting gate, they’ve got about 2 million songs on offer. Every single one of those songs is encoded at 256kbps with no DRM. It’s that last detail that makes this such a big deal.

I’ve never been able to get my head around the justifications for DRM. In the past, I have been literally sitting in front of my computer with my credit card in hand, eager to spend money on music I love. But rather than greet me with open arms, services like iTunes instead treat me with suspicion, demanding that they get to call the shots about how I can use music that I’ve bought.

For a really egregious example of where this can lead, take note that Virgin Digital is shutting down:

All tracks used Windows Media DRM, and therefore were only playable under Windows and on WMA-compatible devices. The site now advises its customers who have purchased tracks to back them up, as they will not be able to download them again once Virgin Digital has closed. It’s unclear whether the purchasers of individual tracks will be able to access their songs without burning them to CD and reimporting them as MP3s, but it’s better to be safe than sorry if you’re one of those customers. And naturally, subscribing members will lose access altogether once their subscriptions lapse.

DRM-crippled suppliers treat me like a criminal. That turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. It’s precisely because of the DRM that I resort to using peer-to-peer networks or other illicit means of music acquisition.

Make no mistake, the design of the iTunes music store trumps Amazon on just about every level. For most of the purchasing process, the user experience is far superior on iTunes. But the user experience doesn’t end with a financial transaction. The user experience of interacting with the purchased song continues long after leaving the store.

I haven’t bought anything from the iTunes music store because of the DRM. I have used it though: I’ve been given gift certificates for iTunes downloads. This is what I have to do after completing a download:

  1. Pull out the read/write CD I keep just for this,
  2. Burn my new music to the CD,
  3. Rip the music back as MP3,
  4. Erase the CD in preparation for step 1.

And that’s perfectly legal allowed by the terms of service*. But I can’t just convert from DRMed AAC straight to MP3—that would be illegal.

Now, it’s pretty clear that this kind of “copy protection” isn’t going to get in the way of anyone who seriously wants to make copies of the music. All it does is place frustrating stumbling blocks in the path of legitimate customers who want to listen to their purchased music wherever they choose.

I hope that the launch of the Amazon MP3 store is a sign that record companies are finally beginning to realise that people who want their music to be open and portable aren’t criminals—they’re music lovers.

John Gruber puts it best when he says:

Given the Amazon MP3 Store’s audio quality, prices, and user experience, I can’t see why anyone would buy DRM-restricted music from iTunes that’s available from Amazon.

In a wonderful twist, the current number one bestselling song on Amazon is 1234 by Feist— the very song that Apple uses to promote the iPod Nano. And why not? iPods and MP3s have always been a great combination (it always frustrates me when I read reports by lazy journalists that contain statements such as “only songs purchased from Apple’s iTunes music store can be played on the iPod”). I suspect that the vast majority of iPods are filled with un-DRMed music, mostly ripped from CD. Now, thanks to Amazon, there’s also an easy way to fill them with un-DRMed music downloaded from the tubes of the internets.


* Matthew points out that back-ups, archiving, shifting format, all currently illegal in the UK. Here’s the petition to change that. Even the government agrees that the current situation is pretty stupid but the law hasn’t changed.

The Best Songs I Acquired in 2006 Ever

Richard has published his annual round-up of the past year’s music available, as usual, on CD for anyone willing to reciprocate. It’s a great idea that always reminds me of Thurston Moore’s essay in Wired magazine on the subject of mix tapes:

Once again, we’re being told that home taping (in the form of ripping and burning) is killing music. But it’s not: It simply exists as a nod to the true love and ego involved in sharing music with friends and lovers. Trying to control music sharing — by shutting down P2P sites or MP3 blogs or BitTorrent or whatever other technology comes along — is like trying to control an affair of the heart. Nothing will stop it.

Inspired by my esteemed colleague’s example, I hereby present a short list of songs from some of my favourite albums of 2006. To say that I bought all these songs would be stretching the truth beyond its elastic limit.

Podcasts and the Internet Archive

I recorded an MP3 of In Praise of the Hyperlink, my presentation from Reboot 8. The recording process was pretty straightforward using Garageband but I should really invest in a good microphone.

I needed someplace to host the audio file — nothing will increase your bandwidth bills quite like audio or video files. I thought about using my .mac account. There’s plenty of room there but I think there’s still a cap on the amount of transfers allowed per month. I’m also concerned about what might happen in the future if I decide not to renew my subscription.

Then I found the ideal solution. On Pete’s recommendation, I downloaded ccPublisher with the intention of adding licensing metadata to my MP3 file. As well as allowing me to do that, the software also provides an option to upload files to the Internet Archive. “Why not?”, I thought. It seems like a good place to host media files. No bandwidth charges, no subscription charges, and it’s more discoverable.

By the way, the RSS feed for the articles section of this site doubles up as a podcast. If there are any audio files linked in an article, they automatically get added as enclosures in the RSS feed. I’ve also added some iTunes specific tags to the feed. If you want, you can subscribe to the podcast directly from iTunes.

If you’re a podcast producer and you’re publishing under a creative commons license, the Internet Archive might be the perfect host for your files.

Oh, and don’t forget to provide transcriptions if you can.

Random

The party shuffle feature in iTunes is supposed to create a random playlist of songs. Oh yeah? Then how come, out of 6,435 songs, it manages to choose the exact same song performed by two different bands one after the other?

Sick Of Goodbyes in the iTunes Party Shuffle list

Update: The question is rhetorical. The fact that coincidences like this occur is in fact proof that the shuffling is truly random. If there were no coincidences, that would be suspicious. The Cederholm-Fugazi effect is another example. It’s just that, as Daniel Gilbert says, we notice things that are memorable and filter out the vast majority.

That syncing feeling

Since I started working at the Clearleft office, I’ve been using a lovely new 20 inch Intel iMac. That’s great… but it means that I now use three different machines; I have my 17 inch G4 iMac at home and my 12 inch G4 iBook for when I’m on the move. I decided that I really needed to centralise all my data.

The first step was a no-brainer: start using IMAP instead of POP for my email. This is something I should have done a long time ago but I’ve just been putting it off. I’ve got six different email accounts so I knew it would be a bit of chore.

After a few false starts and wrong turns, I got everything up and running on all three computers. Unfortunately somewhere along the way I lost a couple of emails from the last day or two.

Which reminds me…

If you’re the person who sent me an email about doing a pre-Reboot podcast interview (or if anyone else out there knows who I’m talking about), please write to me again — I lost your email but I’d love to have a chat.

Anyway…

With my email all set up, that left contacts and calendars. I looked into contact syncing services like Plaxo but I wasn’t all that impressed by what I saw (and tales of address book spamming really put me off). In the end, I decided to drink the Apple koolaid and get a .Mac account. I doubt I’ll make use of any of the other services on offer (I certainly don’t plan to send any electronic postcards… sheesh!) but I think it’ll be worth it just for the Address Book and iCal syncing. As an added bonus, I can also sync my Transmit favourites — a feature I didn’t know about.

I am surprised by one thing that isn’t synchronised through .Mac. There’s no option to centralise the podcasts I’m subscribed to. That still seems to be based around the model of one computer and one iPod. I would have thought it would be pretty easy to just keep an OPML file on a server somewhere and point iTunes at that to keep podcasts in sync but this doesn’t seem to be something that’s built in by default. No doubt somebody somewhere has built a plug-in to do this. If not, I guess somebody somewhere soon will.

Apart from that, I’m all set. I’m relying on Apple to store my data and my hosting provider to store my emails, but I somehow feel more secure than if I was just hoarding everything locally. I feel a bit less tied down and a bit more footloose and fancy free.