itunes music store.

i love macs. i love every mac product i’ve used since about 2004. their older computers kind of sucked but only because the operating systems weren’t up to snuff. or they were up to snuff but the pc operating system was ubiquitous, you couldn’t get away from it and the mac’s just couldn’t compete. but since the release of the mac os x, literally every single mac product or accessory i’ve used has been satisfactory. except for one. the itunes music store.

i like the way the store is set up; it’s extensive, it’s broad, it’s got so many different cool features that can appeal to whoever, and obviously it’s loaded with tons and tons of music. they’ve got Top lists, artist/genre/time period essentials lists, celebrity/artist playlists, The World Of… is an extremely cool feature that really breaks down some of music’s greatest artists and analyzes their sound (this is one of my favorites and this is one of my favorites. even if you aren’t gonna buy, these are both very cool to look at.) podcasts are a way cool free mode of communication and information. heck, you can rent movies on there for crying out loud. the store has got something for everybody.

the thing i hate about it is their system for purchasing music. it’s a dollar a song, or usually ten bucks an album, which is a pretty good deal, but after that it all goes downhill. first of all, what you’re actually buying are a bunch of a files. and locked files at that. they are m4p format, which itunes uses for protection purposes. basically it means you’re restricted from manipulating the file as much as you might want, or from sharing it as much as you might like. if you buy an album on itunes and a buddy wants it, you can share the files with your friend, but when they try to access them on itunes, it will ask for your authorization, and you need to enter your own itunes store account password in order for your friend to use the files on their computer. once you’ve entered your password in, you’ve “authorized” your friend’s computer to play all of the restricted itunes files you’ve purchased from the itunes store. the problem is that itunes has a 5 computer limit, which means you can give your password to five buddies, and when friend #6 comes along and really wants to get the new lil wayne album* that you bought from itunes, and you’ve already authorized your 5 computers, friend #6 is out of luck. he’ll have to find the lil wayne album somewhere else.

another thing is that the file quality is not very good. i’ll admit, i know very little about this subject, about sound quality and headphones and speakers and bass vs. treble and things like that. thanks to the advent of the ipod and of the inescapable nature of laptops, speaker quality and the desire for speaker quality has decreased by magnitudes. when john mayer was mixing his second album heavier things, a lot of it was mixed on a laptop because he knew that would be one of the main ways that people would play it. if you think about it, do you ever listen to music other than on an ipod or on your laptop? the other most common mode of playing music would probably be off cds in a car, but other than that, it’s mainly ipods or laptops. this is all just to say that sound quality, and more importantly the desire for sound quality, has decreased in a huge way the last decade or so. i doubt all those hannah montana fans are concerned with the bit rate of the music they’re listening to on their ipods. which is probably why itunes can get away with bad file quality; no one really cares. the bit rate, or the bits of information that are processed per unit of time, is too small. the normal sound file bought off itunes has a bit rate of 128 kbits/second, while a cd has a bit rate greater than 256 kbits/second. to be fair, for the last year itunes has offered a new service called itunes plus, which offers sound files which are unprotected and play at a higher bit rate, closer to that of a cd. and a few months ago, they changed the service from costing more to just being mandatory for some albums and lowering the price back to the normal 10 dollars/album; so instead of being able to buy the cheaper, lower-quality version of an album, the only version available is the itunes plus version for the same cheap price. so that’s definitely to their credit.

this is a smaller issue, really nitpicky, but i’m an itunes elitist, and when i see someone’s itunes library that has loads of single songs or half-albums, it annoys me to no end. and a lot of the shoddy itunes music libraries in our country are due to the nature of the itunes music store. they offer the majority of their albums track by track as well as in bulk. like i said before, you can purchase the whole album for usually 10 dollars or you can pick out individual tracks for 99 cents each. this has led to a breakdown in the whole concept of “the album”. for the last 50 years almost, albums were sold as units. an album was its own individual, self-contained work of art. there was no pick and choose of tracks by listeners; you couldn’t burn a cd for your mom of the “best” tunes of your choosing in two and half minutes. a record was a record, not a “choose your own adventure book**”. and nowadays no one cares. you can buy rihanna’s 5 hot singles off her album and skip the rest of it. it takes away power from the artist and it makes itunes music libraries look like crap. it’s a lose-lose situation.

related to that, you don’t always get album artwork with the purchase of an album from the itunes store. it’s really hit and miss; on the Top 20 albums on the itunes front page, 11 of them come with album artwork, 9 don’t. i’d wager about half of the albums on itunes come with artwork and the other half don’t. what a lame deal. with a cd you get the jacket too; all the artwork, in many cases you get lyrics, all the personnel information, and artist thank yous. it sucks getting an album off itunes without all that stuff. and even if you do buy an album that happens to come with album artwork, it’s in the form of a “digital booklet”, which just a big pdf file that you can only look at on your computer. weak sauce.

and after all this, to add insult to injury (in a metaphorical sense), itunes offers “album only” or “preorder only” bonus tracks, not readily available to the poor shmucks like me who don’t buy from the online store. sweet ones too, like acoustic takes on certain tunes or remixes or just altogether new songs. if you preorder coldplay’s new album you’ll get two acoustic tracks along with all the others when it’s released, and when john mayer released continuum two years ago, there was a totally new track called can’t take that plane, only available with the preorder. to be fair, that track kind of sucked, but it’s the principle of the thing. it’s just unfair. i don’t use limewire so i can’t get single tunes that way, so for the few of us*** who actually buy real cds anymore (or download illegally), we get gypped out of extra tunes. i don’t like it.

there you go. mac is golden; it seems they can do no wrong except for the itunes store. i think their next project should be either fixing the store or making a tv monitor. like a real apple brand tv monitor to go along with the apple tv system. how money would that be?

-jon

* don’t buy this album. it won’t be good and he annoys me.

** jm quote.

*** i don’t actually include myself in that group because in the last year or so i’ve only bought like two cds, and both of those were in the last month.

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