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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
News
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Sport
football
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?