The UK magazine PC Pro has published a survey which says that people are not happy with online music stores. They find that:
- They offer poor compatibility with portable players (i.e. iPod owners are tied to Apple’s store)
- The DRM restrictions are too harsh
- The sound quality is poor
- The music itself is overpriced compared to buying the CD
There are also individual complaints about being billed twice for a song when there was an error with the store.
I think this sums up my general attitude towards online music stores. Most of them offer tracks at 128Kbps which is well below CD quality (the difference is especially noticeable when you have decent hifi equipment). 192Kbps is usually the best compromise but I think only Tesco (in the UK) offer that.
At 79p a song, a typical 12 track album is £9.50, about the same price as the CD in a number of shops which of course comes without the restrictions. You then get stores like iTunes which, if your computer becomes corrupted and you lose all your purchased music, insists that you pay for it all again. Sure, if you lose or break a CD you shouldn’t expect a replacement but it’s not like it’s going to cost them money replacing it, is it? And since most of the stores have user account systems there’s no problem with proving purchase.
The tie-in problem is something that bugs me as well. As an iPod Mini owner, if I want to be able to play back my purchased music it must have come from the iTunes Music Store. To me, this is a bit anti-competitive as I can’t go to another store which might have a higher quality version of the file at a lower price. I certainly shouldn’t have to carry around several players just so that I can listen to purchased music from different suppliers.
The music industry and the shops that sells its music really needs to focus more on the consumer if it wants to defeat piracy. I want to pay for my music, so that I can support the artists I enjoy. But often I find that I can get a better quality file with no restrictions on file sharing networks. That really should not be the case.