Why I Won’t Buy Music From iTunes

Have you ever purchased music from iTunes and tried to save it to a non-Apple MP3 player? Trust me, it’s no fun. The iTunes software won’t let you do that, presumably because Apple wants you to play your music on an iPod. But once I buy a song, shouldn’t I be able to listen to it on any player I like?

Have you ever tried to play an iTunes file on another computer? That won’t work either. The reason is that the music in iTunes is encoded with something called DRM (Digital Rights Management), which is designed to prevent unauthorized copying of purchased music. It is possible to get unprotected music, but only in a format called AAC, which is much less widely supported than the industry standard MP3 format. Again, once I’ve purchased a song, shouldn’t I be able to listen to it on any computer?

I spend a non-trivial amount of my time and money on music and I don’t like the fact that Apple tries to limit what I can do with my music. Fortunately, there’s an easy solution: Amazon.com’s MP3 store is the best way to buy digital music. When you download a track from Amazon it comes to your computer in pure, unadulterated MP3 format. You can copy it freely, in open MP3 format, to a memory stick, another computer or any other device you like. And you can listen to it on any MP3 player on the planet. Amazon’s catalog and prices are competitive with iTunes so there’s really no reason not to use Amazon. Here’s¬†an excellent comparison of the two music stores, courtesy of the venerable tech review site cnet.com.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of Apple products. I have an iMac, an iPhone and an iPad and I love them all, however, until Apple does a better job giving me my music the way I want it, I’m sticking with Amazon’s music store.

By the way, today Apple surpassed Microsoft as the world’s most valuable technology company. For most of my life Apple has been a perennial underdog in the computer business. Their recent rise to the top of the heap is an amazing success story.¬†Coincidentally, just yesterday the US Department of Justice announced an investigation into Apple’s potential anti-competitive practices in their iTunes music store. Ironically, after nipping at Microsoft’s heels for decades, in certain ways Apple is beginning to resemble it’s long-time rival.

8 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Buy Music From iTunes”

  1. Good question, Paul. Amazon gives away a free Kindle app for both iPhone and iPad, so effectively, you can read your Kindle books on those platforms but I think you’re asking a deeper question: can one read a Kindle book outside of a Kindle app or the Kindle device. I don’t know how to even try that because all Kindle hardware platforms (Kindle, iPhone, iPad) are closed, i.e. there’s no obvious way to find and transfer the book file somewhere else.

    Ideally, e-books should be stored in some open format, like PDF, but I’m suspecting that’s not the case. I’ve noticed the iPad’s built-in e-reader doesn’t see or support my Kindle books and vice versa, although I suppose that could be a policy issue rather than a format incompatibility.

    Over time I think e-readers and tablet computers and smart phones will all become more open, in the sense that you’ll be able to access (and copy) your book files directly, at which point people will start demanding the ability to read their books with any reader. The next step may be an e-book format war. :)

  2. I agree, Marc. There is a deeper issue. It’s not enough to Amazon’s software on my reader. I don’t really want them to have control over the content without my consent after I purchase a book. I want to be able to keep it in a durable format and to be able to give it away or sell it like I can with a paper copy. I think the books that are most important to me will never be on an e-reader. Here’s another interesting article on the Wired web site.

  3. Interesting article, Paul. Thanks for sharing it. And thanks for opening up my mind to this issue. I’d been so bowled over by the e-book technology that I missed the control/sharing issue. For the same reason I advocate Amazon over Apple/iTunes, I should be using an open ebook source. Unfortunately, I don’t think one yet exists but I’m going to keep my eyes open for it.

  4. Friends don’t let friends use mp3 (compressed, lossy, crap quality sound = the cassette of the digital age).

  5. People don’t care about compressed and lossy, they only care about sound quality. Now your third objection (crap sound quality) would be significant, if real, but I challenge you to do a blind listen test of an mp3 file next to any lossless codec of your choosing. I don’t disagree that technically, there are superior codecs but, personally, I think mp3 is just fine for the human ear’s dynamic range.

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