cyberspacial musings
bits about the real and virtual worlds

17 May

Apple Music Progress And Further Thoughts

I’ve received so many e-mails about my comments on Apple Music that I thought I ought to post some further thoughts on the subject. It has been widely reported that Apple has sold over 2 million songs within the first two weeks of launch. This is a remarkable number (although more than half were sold as part of an album, likely consisting of more than 10 songs) and would seem to bode well for the project. But I guess I’m not as optimistic. Here’s why.

First of all, I would expect that everyone interested in on-line digital music would jump at the opportunity to try the service out. I probably would even though I think that 99 cents for a song is way overpriced. If you add to that the typical zealotry that comes along with being an Apple user (for now the only eligible purchasers), two million probably wasn’t that hard to hit.

Before you Mac users start flaming me, let me assure you that I’m not trying to incite a riot here. I purchased one of the first Macs that rolled off the assembly line — I’m one of the famed six month club. I purchased an Apple Newton practically the day they rolled out of the factory also. Admittedly I haven’t had a Mac for several years now, but that’s just because I’ve been paid to develop software for Windows recently. I was in the Apple store last week to touch and feel the PowerBooks because I’m going to port some of the software I’m writing to Mac OS X. Okay? So I like Macs.

Let me share with you some additional perspective on the Apple Music experiment. When something new comes out, an extra blip on the charts is usually expected and Steve Jobs has a true knack for making that happen. The real test will be whether the offering can be sustained and that’s where I’m suspicious. On top of that I have some very specific concerns as a prospective consumer.

I’m concerned that albums cost about the same as a new CD does, yet I don’t get the physical medium or the quality of a store CD. Granted, the music downloads from music sharing services don’t have the quality of a CD, but neither do they have the price. Most people are willing to accept less quality for a significantly lower price. The Apple Music store offers neither.

Along with that, I’m really concerned about persistence. This may seem like an odd issue, but it really bothers me and most people haven’t really thought about it. We’ve become very used to a set of audio and video equipment that doesn’t really conform to anything like Moore’s law. I’ve had the same video camera for several years now. I have a CD player in my car that hasn’t changed in ten years (neither has the car!). Before CDs, I played my collection of LPs on a variety of turntables. The content medium was unprotected and the player technology was constant, so my investment could be considered virtually eternal (for all intents and purposes). Even as DVD players arrived, they were all capable of playing CDs. I expect that my CD collection will last much, much longer than my MP3 collection.

Now here’s the rub. I’ve upgraded my computer several times, changed it’s name, etc. I’ve working for a few different companies and probably gone through a couple of dozen computers (or more). When you restrict the content to a device and that device goes away or becomes unusable, the content does also. The problem isn’t the number of computers you have right now; rather it’s the turnover. There is a similar problem that is being discussed right now at the Library of Congress, which is thinking of moving to digital archives. What happens with computer technology shifts? Computer technology is subject to Moore’s Law — every 18 months, the transistors double and the technology becomes that much more advanced. What happens to the bits then? The Library of Congress is going to have to establish some process to continually move the stored bits as the technology changes. Similarly, I expect that music that I purchase today should be available to me 10 years from now, regardless of the computer used to play it. That means that any restrictions on the playing device are going to be a problem.

My feeling is that the restrictions on the music files will have to go away to solve this problem Only then will I feel better about buying music on-line. Until then, I consider that the MP3s that I have do not have any longevity and the risk is mine should they disappear. Considering what I paid for them, I’m willing to accept the risk.

I appreciate all of the comments that have been sent to me on this subject and encourage further dialog. If you are one of the folks who has purchased tunes from the Apple Music service, does persistence and longevity bother you? Do you have any concerns about paying as much for an album electronically as you would if you purchased it as atoms?

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