Bye bye iTunes… hello 7digital

For the last few years, I’ve been using Apple iTunes to manage my music collection. I ripped all of my full length CDs to MP3 using iTunes (at the highest bitrate it allowed at the time – 192kpbs) although I still have about 500 CD singles to do and I now favour a higher bitrate (even if I can’t hear it, I’d like to know that the quality is there should I want to do something else with the media at a later date as technology progresses). Sam C. Lin carried out an interesting study comparing MP3 encoding with and the linear PCM recording used for CD audio.

Until today, all of my digital downloads have come from the iTunes Store (DRM-free where the record companies allow it). Unfortunately the record companies don’t like Apple’s market dominance and the DRM-free iTunes Plus catalogue is still very limited.

Whilst indie music fans have DRM-free alternatives like eMusic, for my more mainstream tastes I’ve been waiting for Amazon to bring their digital download service to the UK but then, frustrated by the 30 second clips of various mixes on iTunes of “Paddy’s Revenge” by Steve Mac (sampling the Penguin Café Orchestra), I decided to Google a little and found an alternative download site – 7digital. 7digital logoNot only did 7digital sample a different section of the track (allowing me to decide which mix I would like) but it offers MP3 downloads at up to 320kbps and a big discount if I buy all the mixes together (just like when I used to buy CD singles). Furthermore, 7digital has just become the first European music site to offer DRM-free downloads from all four of the big music publishers.

Within a few minutes, my shopping basket included a couple more individual tracks that I’ve been thinking of getting – “Love Is Noise” by The Verve and “Sex on Fire” by Kings of Leon (I did stop short of buying Katy Perry‘s “I Kissed a Girl” though). Then I saw that 7digital had a section for music from TV Ads and I got browsing… a few minutes later I’d also picked up “She’s So Lovely” by Scouting for Girls.

I still don’t buy albums in digital format as I’d like a physical media backup and, to be perfectly honest, knocking a pound off the retail price is not a big enough discount – it’s not as if the artists get paid a bigger share and the distribution costs must be almost nothing – but then I saw that 7digital had albums on sale at £2, £3 (and even free). It’s not just obscure stuff that’s reduced either – I could buy “Yours Truly, Angry Mob” by Kaiser Chiefs in 320kbps MP3 format for £4.99 (although I chose to buy just the tracks I wanted) but not all albums are that cheap as their earlier album “Employment” was £7.99 (so, pretty much on a par with the supermarkets, Amazon.co.uk and Play.com).

To checkout, I needed to create an account but I could pay by card, PayPal or text message and, once my payment had been processed, I could download my tracks individually or as a zip file (even change format for tracks that had multiple formats available at the same price) and those tracks are still available for me to download again at a later date (via a feature called my locker).

7digital locker

After downloading, I simply dragged the MP3 files to iTunes, switched to my “Recently Added” playlist, selected the new tracks and added them to the “Purchased” playlist. As should be expected, all tracks were supplied complete with album art and other metadata.

So what does this tell me?

  1. iTunes is easy – that’s why I’ve been buying tracks there for the last few years. But, now that DRM is no longer an issue, downloading tracks from somewhere else is just one extra step (after importing them into iTunes they can be synced with my iPhone/iPod).
  2. It is possible to get better quality downloads (legally) and better pricing if you shop around. Maybe not everyone will have the same catalogue but 7digital has a major advantage through its arrangements with all four major music publishers.

What should it tell the music industry?

  1. People will still pay for DRM-free music, at the right price.
  2. People like me, who are too old to spend Saturday afternoons hanging around HMV (anyway, I have a family these days) will still buy music if you make it easy enough – maybe not in the quantities I used to but it’s worth noting that I spent money this afternoon that I wouldn’t have done if there wasn’t a legal download option.

I’ll still use iTunes to manage my music and video library but I don’t see any reason for me to go back to the iTunes store now… regardless of what the the new “Genius” sidebar in iTunes 8.0 tells me (I hate Apple’s use of that word!) – from now on, it’s 7digital all the way for me.

Apple iTunes 8, showing recently added tracks and the genius sidebar

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