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The EvO:R Street Journal
The EvO:R Street Journal
Dedicated to the culture, business and interests of the indie artist.
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CD's Vs downloads
by Rick Broida
The novelty of the 99-cent song has worn off. The ugly reality of Digital Rights Management
(DRM) has settled in. The music-download revolution is over. It's time to go back to buying CDs.
iTunes, Rhapsody, Yahoo, and a host of other online stores sell tracks for 99 cents
apiece (often less if you buy an album's worth), while a CD still costs upwards of $16 at
the mall F.Y.E. store. Plus you have to pay sales tax and, you know, go to the mall (where
you'll undoubtedly buy more than just a CD). Ah, but is it worth it? Should you spend that
little extra to buy your music in tangible form? Or should you stick with bits and bytes?
Let's take a closer look at these two methods of music distribution and pick a champion once
and for all.
Price: Usually between $9.99 and $16.99 new
The Good: They're universally compatible, easy to use, and you can rip them to whatever
format and bit rate you want; they're usually packed with liner notes, lyrics, artist
The Bad: They typically cost more than downloads, and you have to buy the whole album;
anti-rip copy protection is a problem on some discs; scratches can impede playback; you
have to go a store (or pay shipping) to get them; you have to store them; jewel cases
The Scoop: I was all ready to cart my CD collection to the dump, really I was. Who needs
easily scratched analog media and perpetually cracked cases when I can store all my tunes
on a hard drive? Well, a funny thing happened on the way to Mt. Trashmore: I remembered why
I fell in love with CDs in the first place. They sound great, they play anywhere, and they
come with extra goodies you don't get with digital downloads, like liner notes and song lyrics.
But best of all, I like being able to rip my CDs to whatever format I want--MP3, WMA, Ogg
Vorbis--at whatever bit rate I want. That makes them compatible with all portable players,
unlike digital downloads (most of which fall into the iPod or PlaysForSure camps). Am I
willing to pay extra for all these benefits? Well, no, but I now scour hard in search of
used or otherwise discounted discs. With a little bargain-hunting (eBay, Half.com and Amazon
Marketplace for purchases; Lala.com and Swapacd.com for trades), I can usually score a CD
for a lot less than the $9.99 digital-download price.
Price: Usually 99 cents per song or $9.99 per album
The Good: Cheaper than CDs; instantaneous home delivery; most online stores have much larger
selections than brick-and-mortar stores.
The Bad: DRM is a nightmare; you're locked into whatever bit rate and file format the store
chooses; DRM is a nightmare; lost or damaged downloads can be difficult or impossible to
replace; DRM is a nightmare.
The Scoop: True story: About a month before Christmas, my neighbor bought three Disney Mix
Max players for his kids. He spent the next several weeks trying to load tracks from various
subscription services: AOL Music Now, Napster, Rhapsody, etc. Nothing worked. He returned
the players and bought three iRiver Clix instead. Same problems, but finally he got them to
work with MTV Urge. It was, in short, a nightmare from start to finish.
DRM, the chief source of all this grief, is the love child of Satan and Osama bin Laden.
If I could pay 99 cents for an unprotected, unrestricted, 320Kbps MP3, I'd do it in a heartbeat-
-and it would be all over for CDs. Instead, online music stores treat us like thieving children,
locking us into one bit rate, one file format, a limited number of CD burns, and other annoying
handcuffs. Apple and Microsoft impose the worst kind of restriction: Songs purchased from
iTunes and Zune Marketplace can be played only on iPods and Zunes, respectively.
Then there's the problem of lost music: If your files get damaged, your hard drive gets wiped
or some other disaster befalls your song library, well, tough luck. Apple, for its part, won't
replace your tunes, even though you've paid for them. (For the record, I've heard anecdotal
evidence that if you find a nice customer-service rep, they may make an exception). Different
services have different policies when it comes to replacing purchases--but do you want to
wade through pages of legalese to find out what they are?
Digital downloads are fast, convenient, and reasonably priced, but there are too many hassles
--even for computer-savvy users like my neighbor.
Call me old-fashioned, but I've rekindled my love affair with CDs. They let me do things, to
borrow from Old Blue Eyes, my way. See you in hell, DRM.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the one music-download service that gets it right: eMusic.
It sells unprotected MP3s from a library that's now over a million strong. If you want the
convenience of digital downloads without the evils of DRM, this is the place to start.
Rick Broida, Lifehacker associate editor, is currently at work on a Zune book, so he won't be
escaping DRM anytime soon. His special feature, Alpha Geek, appears every Monday. Subscribe
to the Alpha Geek feed to get new installments in your newsreader.
ESJ is looking for writers/poets for our next issues.
All work is appreciated and will be published (with the exception
of articles containing racism, bigotry or other demeaning topics)
Also, this is a PG-13 rating and will be censored if you do not edit
it. Please e-mail The EvO:R Street Journal.