Charles Arthur On Technology

'Apple needs the independent record labels more than they need it, because they'll do just fine, thanks, through the normal sales channels'

So at last the European flavour of the iTunes Music Store has been launched - and after a week of its being open, people are already asking: exactly where is all the music?

So at last the European flavour of the iTunes Music Store has been launched - and after a week of its being open, people are already asking: exactly where is all the music?

Although Steve Jobs stood up and insisted there were 700,000 tracks, the same as on the US site, the reality is that number is the total across all three sites - UK, France and Germany - each of which has only about 300,000 each, with some overlap. If "piracy" is iTunes's principal competitor, there's some way to go to match the choice over on the dark side.

Now that we have all the online music stores we're likely to need for the next few years - with Napster and all the OD2 front-ends having got their act together - it's time to consider quite what, if anything, this is going to do to the music industry, and which of the sites will survive in the long term.

Apple has the benefit of simplicity: its iTunes Music Store is brilliantly integrated into the iTunes program, which is a free download, and also comes with the iPods that Britons are snapping up in droves. Napster has begun pushing promotional CDs into Dixons stores. The OD2 sites (such as mycokemusic.com and bignoisemusic.com) suffer from not having a well-known name in front of them; OD2 would probably do better than the 500,000 songs it sold in the first half of this year across Europe if it just got its partners out of the way and sold stuff in its own right.

Now, the expectation of everyone is that the iTunes Store and its brethren will lead to the death of the album. I wanted to write this while listening to "American Pie" (you know, about the day the music died) by Don McLean. But it's available on the iTunes Store only if you buy the whole album - not as a single track. I think established artists will increasingly choose not to let their songs be cherry-picked. Radiohead got sick of performing their first huge hit, "Creep", and as a corollary of not wanting to be identified by a couple of standout tracks, won't allow their songs to be sold piecemeal online. I suspect The Darkness will rapidly tire of being tied to "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" - if they last long enough. But for rising artists, selling individual tracks will be the way forward. The problem once they're a success will be how to change their stance without annoying us.

However, high-street shops need not shudder just yet. Jobs claims that the US online store has grabbed two per cent of the total US market in just a year. I suspect Europe will take off much more slowly, for three reasons: fewer people have high-speed connections to download songs; musical tastes are often more eclectic - we go for a wider range than dominates the US charts; and Britons especially will go a long way for a bargain and to avoid paying any premium.

While people were meant to faint dead away at the lowness of the iTunes prices (79p each rather than the 99p or more of other sites), if you're considering buying a £7.99 online album, compare it first with a site such as Amazon. The Amazon CD will frequently work out at about the same price (buy a stack of them, and you'll not have to pay shipment, so you'll sort-of save). And the sound quality will be higher.

It will also have all the tracks - another wrinkle to beware of in your online buying. If you've got the iTunes Store handy, look up "Kamakiriad", by Donald Fagen (one half of Steely Dan): on the UK site, if you buy it for £5.53, you won't get track 7, "On the Dunes". At least one reviewer at Amazon UK says that track merits close listening, but you'll not hear it through the online store. And that's a pattern repeated again and again.

True, the Amazon CD costs £7.99, but "marketplace" sellers attached to it can match the online price. I don't know whether OD2 or Napster sell that missing track 7, or even have Fagen's back-catalogue. Do you want Faithless's new hit "Mass Destruction"? It's on Oxfam's "Big Noise Music" site, but not at Apple's. How about Queens of the Stone Age's "You're So Vague"? No, only got four of their tracks. Carly Simon's "You're So Vain"? No. Something from Blur? Only their first album. Muse? Just their first album, of four. And there's nothing from the Virgin label.

The absence of the independent labels - who don't like Apple's terms, which they say would tie them for the next three years to a fixed payment below that of the five major labels - gives the iTunes Music Store a serious momentum problem. In the US, independents are a tiny part of the business; over here, a quarter. Apple needs them more than they need it, because they do just fine through the normal sales channels. Steve Jobs would be unwise to sacrifice customers' interest on the altar of a few pennies. Think of the iPods you'll sell, Steve.

All the sites offer buy-to-keep downloads: but Apple offers only this "store" metaphor. OD2 also offers streaming (for 1p per track), while Napster offers a "subscription" - grab a bunch of tracks and sample them, and buy those you like. Both the latter are hugely attractive, because they're essentially radio without the annoyances of DJs and commercials. Apple has underestimated the role of the "happy accident" in our enjoyment of music. I would have liked to buy the track that was the backing of an iPod ad; but I couldn't catch its name, or find it. I don't necessarily want to buy everything I hear (though I'll have it if it's free, a behaviour that the file-sharing networks promote), and I can't tell by listening to 30-second snatches if I really like something.

Jobs insist that people aren't interested in subscriptions, where you pay forever to listen to a song; I'd agree, but that's not quite how Napster works. He says people aren't interested in streaming; that's an exaggeration. Perhaps Apple doesn't have the technical resources to sort out a subscription system, though it could knock together a streaming system in a week or two. If it doesn't widen its offerings, both musical and technical, then last week's launch may turn out to be one of the biggest missed opportunities in years.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks
tv

Regular cast member Ste Hay, played by Kieron Richardson, is about to test TV boundaries

Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
techPerils of 'text neck' revealed
News
i100
News
Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt
peopleStonewall boss says many fear it could ruin their careers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

What are Jaden and Willow on about?

Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

Cold war

How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert
Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

‘O, Louis’ is the plaintive title of a biography about the Dutchman. Ian Herbert looks at what it tells us about the Manchester United manager
Isis in Iraq: Baghdad hails the retaking of the Baiji oil refinery as the start of the long fightback against the Islamist militants

Isis takes a big step back

Baghdad hails the retaking of the Baiji oil refinery as the start of the long fightback against the Islamist militants
Bill Cosby: America’s beloved TV ‘dad’ or serial rapist?

Bill Cosby: America’s beloved TV ‘dad’ or serial rapist?

Ukip silk bow ties, Green Party T-shirts, and 'Iron Baby' romper suits: How to shop politically

How to shop politically

Ukip silk bow ties, Green Party T-shirts, and 'Iron Baby' romper suits
The science of sex: What happens when science meets erotica

Sex on the brain

Fetishes, dominatrixes, kinks and erotica. They are subjects that should get the crowds flocking to a new exhibition at the Wellcome Collection