Digital Music: Value

When I say value, I don’t just mean how cheap it is (though that is important). I’m also referring to what you get for your money, how rewarding your purchase is. Digital Music has a problem with being a rather hollow purchase. Unlike buying a CD or vinyl, you get nothing physical, just a few files for your computer. When these files are identical to what you could have downloaded for free of an illegal network, it’s hard to keep up the motivation to do the right thing. But it doesn’t have to be this way, the internet is perfect place for delivering rewarding media experiences. Digital Music stores just need to make the effort.

Winner: Matador

You know things are bad when none of the stores win this award. Some fare better than others, but the sad fact is that they all fall short. Other than some album art and the occasional bonus track, each offers little more than a bunch of standard mp3s. Matador, on the hand, is doing some excellent work with their ‘Buy Early, Get Now’ program. This allows you to pre-order CDs, months before they’re ready, and then stream the album while you wait. In some cases, bonus material is released periodically and you can download the album to enjoy in mp3 format before your physical CD arrives. It’s not quite the same as buying digital music in the regular fashion, but it’s an example of using the digital medium to deliver superior content, and more importantly, shows that someone out there is trying.

Runner Up: eMusic

If you’re looking for value in a purely monetary sense, eMusic is the place to go. On the cheapest subscription model, you get 30 tracks for US$10 a month. That comes in at a respectable AU$0.40 per song, WELL below the standard asking price. This is great to see because it makes digital music a viable option. $16.99 is simply too much for an album worth of mp3s. The money you save isn’t enough to justify the sacrifice, especially when you’re getting just plain mp3s. If more stores (and the labels that provide the music) followed eMusic’s lead, digital music would be a far better choice.

What Is Needed:

Either the price needs to come down or the product must be made more rewarding, because as it stands, you simply don’t get your money’s worth. I realise that the pressing of CDs is a small part of the costs in making an album, but surely there is room for better margins. On the other side of the story, I believe it is vital (and not all that difficult) to make digital purchases more rewarding. I would like to see all digital purchased kept in a personal ‘online catalogue’ that can be easily browsed. It should have not just album art, but also liner notes and the ability to stream each track. When digital music reaches this point, I think it will have found its place as a true medium for buying music.

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