Saturday, April 18, 2009

iTunes Music Store "Upgrades"

Upgrade to iTunes Plus

Apple Inc.'s iTunes Store has been a huge success that has changed the music business. iTunes Music is Apple's popular digital download music store where for a small price, people can buy some or all of their favorite music tracks from millions of digital record albums.

When the store first started, they only sold music. The music Apple sold were from the major labels but encrypted with Digital Rights Management (DRM) copy protection. DRM sets limits on how customers can use the music they purchased. With DRM encrytion, tracks purchased from the iTunes Music store could only be used on up to 5 Macintosh or PC computers the customer owned. Tracks could only be burned to a limited number of CDs in a certain order. Tracks could be played on an unlimited amount of iPod music players, but only on the iPod. If you had something else, you were out of luck.

All that changed last year when Apple began offering DRM-free tracks from EMI / Capitol Records and a number of independent labels. A year later most if not all of the tracks offered at iTunes are now DRM free. The changeover came with a price. Tracks without DRM can be played on an unlimited amount of computers and digital music players that support the AAC format or devices supporting MP3 after the AAC files are converted. An unlimited number of CDs can also be made off of various music mixes and albums.

For customers who bought DRM encrypted tracks Apple offers an upgrade of 30 cents per track. When the upgrades were first offered, it was an all or nothing offer. So if you bought like dozens of DRM encrypted tracks and 2 years later offered the upgrade, you'd have to buy all of them again at 30 cents each. The offer sounds cheap but if you have a large library, can become quite expensive.

What I found to be a problem was there are tracks I did not want to upgrade. Between the time I first bought them on iTunes in their DRM format, I had gotten the same tracks on Compact Disc (CD) and ripped them to iTunes as MP3s. I did not need the upgraded tracks. I did not take Apple up on their upgrade offer until very recently.

After not checking the "upgrade to iTunes Plus" option for awhile, I looked at it again. Lo and behold I was surprised to find that the upgrades are now "ala carte". I can now pick and choose which songs I want to upgrade and leave the rest. This is good. I started to upgrade some of the tracks that I don't have in other non-DRM formats.

The downside of iTune's move to DRM-free music is that the greedy record labels forced Apple into accepting a tiered pricing scheme at iTunes Music. Previously all individual tracks available for sale were priced at 99 cents each. The music industry pushed many of the prices higher to $1.29 each track. That bites.

There are supposed to be tracks selling at 69 cents each at iTunes, but I have yet to see any. The higher priced tracks are not surprisingly, the latest top 40 hits through the different music genres. Some old tracks such as Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" sell for $1.29 each. What's up with that?

Needless to say, I'll tryto avoid the $1.29 tracks for as long as I can. Many of iTunes tracks are still on sale for 99 cents each.

There are also other digital music stores online. My favorite alternate digital music store is, where many of the tracks are priced at 79 and 89 cents each in addition to the 99 cent ones. But like iTunes, the music industry bullied Amazon into increasing the prices on some of their tracks to $1.29. Is this price fixing or what?

There are some price differences. Just today I noticed a new Green Day song called "Know Your Enemy" on iTunes. That advanced track from their upcoming new album is selling for $1.29 at iTunes. When I looked at, the same track is selling for 99 cents. I bought the 99 cent track even though I know that on or after May 15, I'll probably get the entire album in CD format. It seems like good old fashioned competition may be keeping Amazon to price many more of its top 100 digital tracks for 99 cents, or in some cases less. It pays to shop around.

All of this price adjustments and DRM makes me want to go back to good old fashioned vinyl 45s where for the same prices you pay for 1 digial song, you almost always got 2 songs cut on to one single disc. I miss B-sides.

MEL'S WEEKLY TOP 20 - April 12 to 18, 2009

This Week Song Title Artist Last Week

1. Poker Face - Lady GaGa - 2
2. No You Girls - Franz Ferdinand - 1
3. I'm Not Over - Carolina Liar - 6
4. California - Shannon Hurley - 7
5. Magnificent - U2 - 3
6. People Got a Lotta Nerve - Neko Case - 4
7. Time Lapse Lifeline - Maria Taylor - 5
8. Is Anybody Out There? - The Downtown Fiction - 10
9. Natalie - The NuRu - 11
10. Working On A Dream - Bruce Springsteen - 8
11. Gives You Hell - The All-American Rejects - 9
12. Please Believe Me - Darrin Kohavi - 15
13. Halo - Beyonce - 16
14. Good Days Bad Days - Kaiser Chiefs - 14
15. 1, 2, 3, 4 - Plain White T's - 18
16. Lucky - Jason Mraz & Colbie Caillat - 19
17. The Show - Lenka - 20
18. The Rake's Song - The Decemberists - 12
19. My Lucky Day - Bruce Springsteen - 13
20. Focus - Cyndi Harvell - NEW

As submitted to Plannine's Classic Top 30

1. Oh Boy! - Buddy Holly
2. Jennifer Eccles - The Hollies
3. My Hawaii - The Rascals
4. New Year's Day - U2
5. Nights Are Forever Without You - England Dan & John Ford Coley
6. Orinoco Flow - Enya
7. Revolution - The Beatles
8. Mirror Star - Fabulous Poodles
9. Guilty of Loving You - Jerry Fuller
10. Don't Ever Leave Me - Connie Francis

Graphic: Modified screen shot of iTune Plus upgrade screen.

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