Online Music Suppliers Have Room to Grow

Rob Pegaroro, on the two year anniversary of Apple’s iTunes music service, outlines what still needs to be done in the online music business:

• A full selection of artists: No matter what legit store you shop at, you won’t find any albums by the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, among others. Just what are these bands — or their lawyers — waiting for? News flash: The Internet is not going away, any more than the CD was 20 years ago.

• Competition on price: A buck a song (88 cents a song in Wal-Mart’s case) is a fair price, and I’m certainly not in favor of that going any higher. But what if a label or an artist wants to sell a song for less than that? Why can’t an independent record label, with far lower marketing and production costs than a major label, choose to sell its songs for, say, 50 cents each? What about offering cut-rate prices on back-catalogue material to goose its sales? Aside from temporary promotions, such as free-song giveaways, that has yet to happen.

• A way to transfer purchases to other people: Right now, transferring an individual song from the buyer to somebody else — which is completely your right with a CD — is not possible unless you go through the workaround of burning the song to an audio CD, then copying the song back to your computer in some other, unrestricted format. All you can do is transfer an entire collection by giving the lucky recipient your account log-in and password.

• A choice of software and hardware: Apple is the worst offender here: Without the use of unlicensed hacks (or that burn-to-CD-then-re-rip workaround), a song file downloaded off the iTunes store can be played only on hardware or software from Apple. Period. If you want to take that file with you, you’ll need to listen to it on an iPod. If you want to send it wirelessly from computer to stereo, you must use Apple’s AirPort Express WiFi adapter.

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