Friday, November 19, 2010

Is a download worth more than a disk?

This is the second column I've written this week about the fact that the Beatles catalog of music is now available on iTunes but this time I want to talk about the issue of value.

EMI, the company who has the rights to the Beatles music, has been a long-time hold-out on releasing this stuff to be sold on iTunes and I think I know why...

In fact, if you look at something as simple as the price, the reason for EMI's reluctance becomes clear.

To buy the Beatles music as a download from iTunes will (believe it or not) cost more than the price of buying the same tracks on a good old CD.

It would appear that EMI has demanded a very high price for each and every track and album that's sold on iTunes. Perhaps this has been the sticking point that has kept this music off the official iTunes download list.

So what do you get for your money that makes a downloaded version worth more?

Well nothing actually.

Buy the CD and you get something physical that you can hold up to the light and see pretty rainbow hues. Buy the digital download and all you get are some of the bits and bytes on your hard drive or a memory card re-arranged according to some magic that allows music to be extracted from them.

If that hard drive or memory stick suffers a catastrophic failure -- you've got to download it all again and possibly even pay again. You have "virtual" music.

However, if you feel inclined, you can copy your Beatles CDs and even rip them into the very same digital magic that allows the music to be stored on a hard drive or memory card.

So why on earth would anyone want to spend more on a download than a disk?

Perhaps it's because the downloads will become "collectible" -- seeing as how they're so new and mark the dawn of a new era in the distribution of this prestigious collection?

Ah... no.

You see, unlike your old Vinyl albums or even your store-bought CDs, a download doesn't come with anything that effectively identifies it as a "limited edition" and, even less fortunately, in most cases you can't resell them to another person. You're only buying a license for your own use. Sure, as an "album download" the iTunes version comes with files you can print to produce facsimiles of the album covers and notes -- but because you *can* print them they're hardly collectible are they?

So, whereas some of us, when we were poor students needing a few extra dollars to make ends meet, would rush down to the second-hand music store with our old albums and flog them for a few quick dollars -- those who buy their music from iTunes and other download services have no such option.

Now, can someone tell me again why, at least in the case of The Beatles, we're actually paying more for less with digital downloads?

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