The other day while driving with my wife, Stacy, we were discussing the current digital music offerings as compared to those in the past. Since we both came up through the Napster era, it was interesting to look at all the changes since that time period.

    I was partial to categorizing the state of the current offerings into 2 areas, and I was talking about the pros and cons of each. I figured I’m put down my thoughts on this in a few posts, but by no means have I done any real research into this, so take it with a grain of salt.

 

Buy

 

    I would classify this of one of 3 ways so far for acquiring a digital music library by the “Buy” method:

 

The Buy CD and Rip method:

 

        People have been buying music on various forms of media through the ages, and it’s really the advent of digital music on CDs that have lead down the path of now allowing consumers to re-use their existing investment and transform them into digital music files to be used in new ways. Consumers can now buy a CD, and then rip it into their digital music library of choice using a large arena of tools. They are given the choice (currently) of ripping it into any number of formats for personal consumption, and if they want to DRM the music in their library. These programs also leverage online CD Database’s which can identify the CD and fill in the metadata about the CD such as artist and track information instead of having to enter it in by hand.

    This seems to give a large amount of flexibility to the consumer to choose how they wish to use their existing purchase, but does have its drawbacks. It still relies on the concept of buying music as an “album”, which may yield 2 or 3 sought after tracks, and a larger amount of B grade material from the artist. So the price per desired track can be significantly higher than the other buy methods. Yet, it’s not to say an album should only contain the tracks *I* want for that artists, since there have been many times I have been pleasantly surprised to find additional tracks than the ones I had already known about.

    In the past I have taken the tedious time it takes to sit there with a stack of CDs I own and rip them one by one into my music library. This allowed me to choose the quality I was ripping, and control the storage needed to hold such a library. If you do not feel like taking the time to rip your existing library, you can seek out the services of Music Rip or Music Rip UK which will convert your albums for less than $1 a CD if you send them your discs. They return your CDs with all the music ripped into a chosen format on a DVD as files for you to import into your library. I should also mention by this method you can rip your CDs to a Lossless format to store on your large hard drive. A benefit to using Microsoft’s Windows Media Player, is that you can then setup a profile to transcode the Lossless file which is quite large, to a more manageable bit rate and smaller file size to customize it for your portable media device. So you can keep that large, high quality version on your PC, and use the smaller version on a device with less storage so you can hold more music.

    This also brings up a point that having an extensive library ripped from physical CDs, means you have an extensive amount of CDs you need to store somewhere once you have ripped them. I am sure my wife would love if I didn’t have to take up all that space with CDs and their cases. Until all places that have CD players (cars, home stereos, etc.) have a method for playing digital media files, a CD is still the most common way to listen to music I’d have to think.

A big benefit of having a physical “backup” to your digital media, is that in the untimely event that you suffer a complete system failure and lost a HD (without making backups!) you can always re-rip your CDs to your library. This is also useful if you are locked into a particular media format and media player and choose to switch. I also should note that ripping a CD to your library, and selling your physical CD is technically illegal.

So to sum up this method I would say here are the Pros and Cons to buying physical CDs and ripping them to your library:

  • Pros:
    • You have a physical media which can be stored in case of loss of digital library
    • You can control the quality and format you choose to rip your music into
    • You can choose to rip select tracks if not the whole album
    • CDs are still the most portable medium, as in they will work anywhere a CD player is
  • Cons:
    • Ripping and Storing physical CDs can be tedious and space consuming
    • Need to purchase whole album, even if you only like a few select songs

 

 

The online music store method for pay per track buying

 

 

    This method involves using one of the many online music stores which now exist such as Apple’s Itunes, Napster, or Urge. It allows you to peruse a large library of online music and to purchase individual tracks at a per track price or an entire album. The most common price seems to be 99c a track, which can add up to a lot since it’s very easy to just click and buy tracks. Who knew it was so easy to spend money.

 

    I can see the attraction of this method since no longer are you forced to buy a CD blindly at a physical music store without knowing what was on the CD. You can preview a track online, and determine if it is something you wish to purchase. I remember back in the day, smaller music stores would have a CD player booth handy and some headphones so you could listen to the CD before purchasing it. The larger stores such as Best Buy and Circuit City now have little LCD consoles in the CD section so you can preview certain CDs in the store.

    The one big drawback to this concept is that you really don’t “own” the music, but you own the rights to playing the file. There are issues with having multiple library’s, and hardware failure and not backing up these licenses. You are also “locked” into the DRM scheme by the store, and it can only be used on compatible players.

    It has been a long time since I personally used this model, so perhaps some things have changed. The last time I used Itunes I was not very fond of the interface, and the concept of buying the rights to a file. I have had hard drive failures before, and I was not comfortable with this method. I know unofficially Apple will allow you to re-download tracks a limited number of times in the event of a total loss of library, but I have read this is a very un-consumer friendly task, so it makes me shy away from it.

    Another issue with this method, is that it does lock you into a particular DRM technology and music library. Apple’s DRM’d music only plays in Itunes and Apple’s officially, and Microsoft’s Play for sure only works in compatible players. If a user wishes to switch to a new platform, they risk giving up all their existing bought media. There is rumor that at this time Microsoft will be offering a “Transfer from Itunes” offer when they officially launch Urge. The concept is, Urge will search your existing Itunes library and download the equivalent WMA DRM’d file to be used within Urge and other players. This would be a very bold move, but a very costly one I would imagine. I suppose it takes money to make money in that scenario.

    The ability to browse a large library of online music gives you more freedom to sample other forms of music you may not have investigated via a physical CD. It’s very easy to click on a track, listen for a bit, and decide if it’s something you would want to continue listening to. The ability to create your own play lists, read recommendations and reviews and be more involved with your music is where this shines. I believe this is one big reason that digital music is a revolution as compared to previous generations, since it gives the consumer more freedom to discover different genres of music they may not have been exposed to by traditional means. The only issue is that if the artist you want to buy is not part of that chosen online music store, it is most likely not going to be able to add your library through this method.

    To sum this up I would list these Pros and Cons:

  • Pros:
    • Choice of selection of music is huge and more accessible to the consumer
    • Ease of acquiring music to your personal media library
    • Portability of music with compatible players
    • New ways to be involved with the music
  • Cons:
    • Some music may not be available at certain stores
    • DRM is not universally compatible
    • Not really “owning” your music can lead to issues with backup of library

 

AllofMp3/Alltunes Mass purchase

 

 

    The AllofMP3.com is an interesting service. It exists solely in Russia due to Russian law, yet is accessible world wide to purchase music from. The concept is as simple as you pay per quantity of music you wish to download based on quality of the track itself. The Alltunes method allows you to choose the format and quality you wish to download the track in so you are not locked into a particular format which is a nice concept.

    The issue comes with the gray area legality of the service. It is hard to believe a single online store has different rules for media distribution than the other established store due to a country specific law. I suspect this law will be in question due to Russia’s intent on being included in the worldwide marketplace.

    With the legal questions aside, there are some really great features here to look at. I have never used the service myself but have a few friends who swear by it.

    You can choose to download Lossless encoded tracks to retain original quality, as well as lower bit rate tracks if you desire. You choose the track you want, and then choose the format and quality setting which will encode the file online, and then allow you to download it. It is because of this, that these files are not DRM’d so it does allow more freedom of use of the files for good or bad.

They seem to have a rather nice “request” policy, so that if you do not find an album/artist on their store, you can request they add it to their offerings which is interesting.

    I would say there are many pros and cons here, but without having used the service myself I can online comment on second hand information.

  • Pros:
    • More control of the files you want to download
    • No DRM of files
    • The ability to request albums/artists not currently on the store
    • Flexible payment for different level of track quality and quantity
  • Cons:
    • The legality of the service will be in question. It remains to be seen if this service will exist after political pressure

 

Conclusion of the Buy Method

 

 

    So that is how I personally view the state of the Buy method for building a digital library. There are pros and cons to each of the above scenarios, but there are questions you have to ask yourself if you choose to pursue this method.

    Do you NEED to own the music you want, or just owning the right to play the tracks is enough for you?

    Do you want to rip a CD collection, or need to have the ability to re-rip into a different format?

    Do you make backups of your music collection in case of a disaster in the storage of your current library?

 

I’ll discuss the other two methods, Borrowing and Stealing, in a later post to compare to the Buy method.

 

I am curious how others feel about this, so post some comments