My Biggest Gripes with the iTunes Store

My Biggest Gripes with the iTunes Store

01/28/09

The iTunes Music Store was a great invention and I love it. As it is with everything, I also hate it because it swallows a big deal of my money every month (though recently, the iTunes Store has started giving me some of it back). But there are some things that continue to annoy me to no end.

iTunes Plus upgrades

Why do I have to do the iTunes Plus upgrade for every DRM’ed track I ever purchased? Why can’t Apple let me choose which tracks and albums I want to upgrade? Did I not buy a physical copy of Regina Spektor’s “Soviet Kitsch” after I’d initially purchased on the iTunes Store because I did not want the DRM? Now I have to “purchase” the album a third time. As much as I love her music, this seems to me just a waste of money…

During this new transition to an all-DRM-free catalogue, a lot of songs are not yet available in iTunes Plus format but somehow still show up as such in the search results:

iTunes Plus

But the buttons looks completely different in the album’s track listing:

DRM’ed

Yes, this is the same song. And no matter where I click buy now, I’ll always get the DRM’ed version of the song. I filed a complaint with Apple but the only thing I got in response was one free song coupon which is not of much use because as soon as “Until…” will be available as an iTunes Plus song I’ll have to get its Upgrade if I want any iTunes Plus upgrades.

UPDATE: It seems like someone at Apple is reading my blog (or is it just coincidence?). As of today, idividual iTunes Plus upgrades are possible.

And something else stinks about those upgrades: the way the should be working is as follows: the new versions should replace the old ones while retaining the old metadata. Yet this process only works in about two thirds of the cases. Sometimes you just end up with the DRM and iTunes Plus versions of the songs both living in your library side-by-side and you having to make the changes you made to the metadata (rating, genre, etc.) yet again; and even losing some metadata like play count and skip count.

Labeling

You’d think the music labels (and the artist) would want you to buy their music. When introducing the iTunes Music Store in 2003, Apple marketed it as alternative to the illegal download sites. It was all about providing a better user experience than those did. In those days, illegaly downloading music was painful: tracks were often incorrectly labeled, were bad quality or had no artwork.

However, the same is also true for the modern-day iTunes Store. Look at the song from the previous example. Whenever you see a song with an ellipsis in the title, in 99% of all cases, it is written using a triple-dot instead of an ellipsis (…).

This is just the tip of the iceberg, hovever:

Strangely-labeled tracks

You’d think they would manage to put a space between “Brink” and the parenthesis? Or propertly title-case the first word in said parentheses? Why is the music industry not taking more care at labeling music correctly. It can’t be that hard, can it? I never bought a single album on iTunes where I didn’t have to correct a single thing (and no, I’m not talking typographical apostrophes or eliipses).

Wonderous departures and re-entrances

Some albums rapidly change their pricing, iTunes Plus availability and track count or even completely disappear and re-appear at random. It actually happened to me a few times that I had eyed some album and, come the day I’d decided to purchase, it was gone.

Some albums are available in multiple variations, editions and versions. Some however are identical, yet differ substantially in price, artwork quality or labeling:

Same album twice.

I know John Lyons and I know he would never willingly confuse his listeners by putting up two identical-yet-different versions of his (great) record on iTunes. So I guess most of the problems I mentioned have got to do with how music rights are managed across the globe and how two companies could get the right to sell the same music in the same regions. If both of these companies have an iTunes Connect account, it has to come to such strange things as this.

International Movies and TV shows

I guess I’m just rambling on and on but my main gripe is really with how old-fashioned the rights to digital media still are handled worldwide: split into various sub companies, partners, franchisers, license holders, etc. This is the main reason why Apple still has not managed to bring Movies or TV series to the Swiss iTunes Store.

There are some american TV series I love. And CBS or ABC or Showtime or whoever produces them would happily sell them to me. Unfortunately, they can’t because they’ve sold the rights to market them exclusively in my country to someone else. And because that someone else pays them more money than people like me who like watching TV series in English at home on their Apple TV or computer would ever be able to pay them, they have no desire to change this. And that’s why instead of hundreds of companies, Apple has to negotiate with thousands of them. For every single country. These are the thoughts which often lead to one conclusion:
“It wouldn’t be so bad if the whole world was just one big country”.


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