Tangible Is Replacable

I remember reading a while ago off the RIAA’s site from a music store owner about how his independent record store was losing sales to illegal downloading. The article is no longer online, but the store owner said something like, “They say they only want one song, but singles are down.”

When singles are around $5 for a song and 3 or 4 sub-par remixes, I’d hope you’d understand why singles are down, especially when P2P has opened people’s eyes to better distribution systems, even if those systems are illegal. The legal options are also very good compared to what’s been in place for years before. $0.99 is a bargain and it has no bloat.

That’s what I saw iTunes as when it first came out. I’d NEVER buy whole albums from it, but it’d finally be a good way to get singles and songs from soundtracks that I always wanted, and sometimes those aren’t so easy to find on Kazaa. The system worked. The iTunes Music Store was originally built (they say) to compete with the P2P networks. The presentation with Steve Jobs explaining how much time is saved by spending $0.99 instead of looking for a song online hit home for me because I had done that many times.

However, iTMS has been sort of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In retrospect it was never meant to take on P2P, but to ensure Apple’s place in the new digital distribution model. I suppose this is the future. The lack of any market adoption of SACD or DVD-A proves that most consumers are not interested in higher quality when they have the option of smaller, portable, faster mediums. Apple has benefited the most from this by being at the forefront with major label negotiations (Emusic had nothing like what iTunes had at launch).

They said that it was never meant to compete with the physical distribution that we’ve come to know (maybe not necessarily love). To me, digital distribution simply can’t, although maybe that’ll change in 10 years. Currently, I cannot produce a physical copy from anything I download that will look as clean and professional as what I can buy in a store…I’ve tried. Actually, after all the jewel cases, ink cartridges, matte inserts and printable CD-Rs, I wouldn’t be surprised if as much or more money is spent merely attempting to replicate what the “real” copy has, and I never got full liner notes (never bought something with a digital booklet though).

However, it has lately become obvious that this whole system is meant to compete with the regular method. Apple is very aggressive about providing incentives to purchase albums from the iTunes store. About a year ago they started providing extra tracks that are exclusive to the download. About 6 months ago they started providing the digital booklets to help recreate the experience of reading liner notes. The latest thing started a few weeks ago, and that thing is pre-orders. Buy an album that’s coming out 2 weeks from now and you could be getting a few extra tracks and a video when it’s released. For a current example of this, check out what’s going on with Depeché Mode’s new album: the ability to buy tickets for their tour from Ticketmaster before they go on general sale when you preorder.

What about the people who are going to buy the CD? They get nothing? They’ll be spending more and getting less. They want the whole album experience and they are given no more motivation to buy the CD, and they deserve it more.

The funny thing is that for years we’ve been telling the record companies that they need to throw us a bone if they want to sway us from P2P. Sure, we got Dualdiscs, but prices didn’t go down and it’s also saturated the market with two copies of the same album. That creates the perception of increased value, but they haven’t given us the same content as iTunes has given us.

Why not?

Granted, this may be more of a testament to how inept the record companies are (4 of them, at least) rather than how competitive Apple is. Apple may be pulling the strings, but they didn’t build the puppet. On the other hand, maybe the majors know exactly what they are doing by alienating CD buyers.

I wonder what it is.