Why I must insist you boycott the iTunes store

Friday, 25 August 2006

The resolution of music you get from the iTunes store For 99¢—which is for all purposes a dollar—you get an aural piece of crap from the iTunes store. 128kbps (or as Apple calls it, “High Quality”) AAC is certainly not the worst sound in the world. They do sound okay through poor equipment competing with ambient sound. But to use 128kbps in the same sense as audiophile is absurd. It’s just not very good and even a tone deaf monkey would know it if that monkey had some Boston Acoustics instead of iPod headphones turned up loud enough to destroy your high frequency hearing by the time you’re 40. Apple and the music labels could easily offer 320kbps, more than twice the current data rate they’re selling, but they don’t and even 320kbps wouldn’t be close to the resolution of music on CD.

A typical CD retails for like $18 but no one except your stupid parents and kids with outrageous allowances ever pays more than $14 or $12 for a CD. The rest of us who know used digitized music sounds exactly as good as new usually pay $2-$8 for CDs.

A five and a half minute song compared

Sample rate File size Relative data Percent of Original Cost
128 kbps “High Quality” 5,468,011 1 9% original data 99¢
320 kbps (top in iTunes.app) 13,544,120 2.5 times more 23% original data n/a
CD: AIFF (~1,400 kbps) 59,844,288 11 times more 100% original data 20¢–$1.50

So, for $1 you can buy a piece of crap which you could easily lose to a computer problem, or for full quality AIFFs which you can rerip at any rate you want, any time you please, you can pay between 20¢ and $1.50 per song (assuming 10 tracks per disc).

How much pie do I get?

I love the idea of the iTunes store but as it stands it is a colossal rip-off strictly for suckers laboring under the pitiful delusion that they love music. Paying full price for a fragile, DRM controlled fraction of the real product doesn’t make you hip. It makes you stupid and rewards the music industry for continuing to assume that you are.

Update 8/27: okay, okay, solutions are better than bitching

Résumé — I own four Macintoshes and two iPods and I shopped the iTunes store before you even knew it was up. I’ve never and probably never will own anything pre-installed with any Redmond product.

I want an online music store—badly—but if it sells 9% of the original product for 100% of the original price, it is a rip-off. Don’t learn to accept it as a consumer win. It’s not.

[By the by: the voice/audiobook files are much lower quality and a point unmade about CDs is that not only do you own it, you can legally sell it so the net cost after enjoying your music can be free or even a profit.]

Still, this original post was not a part of the solution. So, let’s start on the solution. Getting, at least for starters, 320kbps songs for sale. I think the full 1,400kbps or the AIFF files would be the real consumer win.

To be a part of the solution

  1. Follow this link: iTunes feedback.
  2. Select Feedback Type: Enhancement Request and Feedback Topic: Buying Music, Videos, or Audiobooks.
  3. Write whatever you want. What I recommend is what I’ve written them twice in various venues: “I love your store but will never shop in it again until you offer higher quality sound files. 128kbps is too low to justify paying full price.”

Update, 22 May 2007

You can now, or soon will be able to, buy 256kbps DRM-free files from the iTunes store for an extra 30¢, i.e. $1.29.

This is—like most of Apple’s business decisions—half terrific, half awful.

Win column–

  • No digital rights management.
  • Improved quality.
  • This ups the ante for other music vendors who will have to follow suit which will up the ante for Apple, rinse, repeat.

Lose column–

  • Still only a fraction, ≈ 20%, of the quality they could sell.
  • This still inferior, fragile music is on par with a new CD in cost: $1.29 x 12 tracks = $15.48; 15 tracks = $19.35.
  • Only one major music distributor is on board so far: EMI.
  • No digital rights managment (it’s a loss as well as a win but this isn’t the place to get into it).
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