Compare/contrast online music storefronts Matt 17 Oct 2005

54 comments Latest by djfeiste

Coolfer says the first screen of each online music store tells you a lot about the overall characteristics of the store and the company that runs it. iTunes scores points for its exclusive material offers while Napster still looks like it’s trying to justify its existence.

The company is so busy selling itself it doesn’t spend much time selling music. This is the ulitmate in desperation. It says, “The creditors are coming, please look at our underperforming services.”

54 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Darrel 17 Oct 05

I like iTunes, but feel trapped in the one-window interface. I want tabbed itunes browsing!

Jamie 17 Oct 05

What about eMusic? I’ve been downloading most of my music from there lately.

unless I am doing it wrong... 17 Oct 05

I prefer iTunes, my only gripe… I wish I could listen to all of tracks on an album with one click instead of having to individually click each track.

Ed 17 Oct 05

Same here. I just want to click on a magical “Preview all songs on this album” button.

Reefdog 17 Oct 05

@Ed: As Jamie says, eMusic! It has a “Listen To All” one-click. And a great selection of live and indie material, with a terrific interface to boot. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for cheap (25-cent’ish), DRM-free downloads.

James 17 Oct 05

The Napster subscription model works very well for me and my lifestyle, and is a fair price to pay when combined with Napster to Go, letting me take my tunes along on my portable player, in the car, etc. People need to stop thinking about it as a music SALES model, and think of it more as a music service with an enormous catalog and the ability for you to listen to whatever you like, whenever you like, wherever you like - like satellite radio on steroids.

Many people that trash Napster’s subscription model, and say that people don’t want to “rent” music, are the same people that gladly fork over $13/month for satellite radio.

That being said, this comparison of the landing screens of each service is flawed at best. The author took the liberty of cropping screenshots in a way that does a disservice to desktop-based applications like Napster - Napster has a significant, easy-to-use, flyout menu bar dedicated to the music, prominent at the top of the app. In the screenshot the author uses, only one tile is dedicated to music, on Napster’s landing page today 6 out of 7 tiles are music related, and only 1 tile is service related. It changes constantly. Below the tiles (again, it’s been cropped - and they aren’t even cropped consistently to create a level playing ground!), is space dedicated to new releases, recommendations and their music blogs - all which heavily promote the music.

I can’t speak to the other music services, as I haven’t used them as extensively. But as an avid user of Napster, I can say that the Napster portion of this review is completely biased and inept - making me wonder how much else to take seriously.

All music services are not created equal, and I’d rather have choice than a world with nothing other than iTunes. This piece? Not much more than an iTunes ad in disguise.

Doug 17 Oct 05

I’ve tried eMusic a few times and it just didn’t have the variety I was hoping for. iTunes with tabs would be great.

I think the best makeover for a music store front page is allofmp3.com. They’ve changed their default front page from Russian to English which is a great help for people who don’t know Russian (luckily I do, but it was hard to recommend).

Adam Thody 17 Oct 05

“Napster still looks like it’s trying to justify its existence.”

Funny. So true. I dropped in on Napster.com the other day for the first time in ages, and that’s exactly what I was thinking.

The whole vibe of the site is just “we’re still here”.

dm 17 Oct 05

I will vote for eMusic, too. They have more than I would ever listen too. They get good indie, too.

Don Wilson 17 Oct 05

It’s not it’s job to sell the music, but to sell the service. You can’t compare a subscription-based service versus a one-time-payment service.

Lisa 17 Oct 05

I just went to check out yahoo music. I’ve seen the commercials and was a bit interested — but BAH, they don’t accept Macs.

Here’s the specs:

* Microsoft Windows XP or 2000
* Internet Explorer 6.0+
* Windows Media Player 9.0 or higher
* Pentium III 300 MHz processor
* 128MB RAM
* Broadband connection for streaming and buying music
* Latest Windows Service Packs

James 17 Oct 05

The problem is, Don, that you CAN make unfair comparisons all day long - you just SHOULDN’T. If something’s going to be regurgitated, it should at least be vetted for accuracy and relevance.

KirinDave 17 Oct 05

Wow, the Napster Press Team Arrived mighty fast on this one. Nice response time, James.

Napster isn’t an awful service… unless you compare it to subscription-model competitors. I don’t begrudge people for wanting to use a subscription model (even though I think it’s a waste of money), but Napster just stinks in terms of pricing, selection and interface. The entire site experience revolves around trying to make you drink some kind of bitter koolaid, trying to make you believe you aren’t throwing money at a sinking ship.

But, with iTunes moving into the uncharted territory of video sales and Yahoo! having a better service with a similar price model, why should anyone believe it is anything but a me-too comer trying to leech fame of a long-dead name that once meant something?

Yahoo! and iTunes can both focus on the music, and that’s what we’re all trying to buy.

sxates 17 Oct 05

Agreed with James. I have a feeling that whoever wrote the article has the “napster lite” version of Napster, which doesn’t give you subscription access, but acts more like a demo of the program to get people to sign up for a subscription plan; hence, the heavy self-promotion. If you’re actually a subscriber, as James described, the homepage is VERY music focused. And I have to agree once again, the author seems like a napster hater, or at least someone who has not given them a fair shot by actually using their service.

Darrel 17 Oct 05

So, how does eMusic work? Is it subscription or purchase based? Is it WM DRM?

The only think keeping me from checking out other options is that damne WM DRM.

And good that AllOfMP3.com was mentioned…it’s worth checking out their interface as well.

Don Wilson 17 Oct 05

The problem is, Don, that you CAN make unfair comparisons all day long - you just SHOULDN’T. If something’s going to be regurgitated, it should at least be vetted for accuracy and relevance.
I meant that you can’t make unfair comparisons and suggest that your study holds any truth.

James 17 Oct 05

Napster press? Believe what you like. I’ve been using Napster since it was Pressplay, have watched the service grow and evolve, have experienced pain and frustration with it, have also enjoyed it immensely - and still gladly pay for the service each month. I may investigate other subscription options at some point, as I’m just as much a fan of a deal as the next person. For the way that I listen to music, I most certainly won’t be buying tracks at .99 each anytime soon (although I still buy quite a few CD’s every month).

I just don’t like unfair comparisons. Let there be choice, damn it! All music services are not created equal, because not all music consumers are created equal.

If iTunes works best for you, great. If Yahoo is a better deal, great - use what works for you! If you want to discuss the merits of the interfaces of each of these services - awesome! But do it in a way that actually stands up to scrutiny and has some merit.

sxates 17 Oct 05

What makes WM DRM any worse than Apple’s DRM?

Will 17 Oct 05

I can barely stand the money wasted by downloading DRM-laden songs from iTunes. I can’t imagine the displeasure I would get from merely “renting” music under a subscription model.

That, to me, is absolutely crazy.

Eric 17 Oct 05

Don Wilson hit the nail on the head, the way you sell a service is different than how you sell one-off items. And I think James and sxates both agree with the substance, if not the form, of Don Wilson’s point.

The same criticism against Napster Matt initially referred to applies equally well to BaseCamp.

Napster’s home page is so busy selling itself with:

  • Unlimited access to 1,000,000+ Songs
  • Listen to and download an unlimited amount of music
  • Enjoy 50+ commercial-free, interactive radio stations
  • Discover and share music with other Napster members
  • With Napster To Go, you can fill and refill any compatible MP3 player without paying per song or album
  • Fast, safe and legal
  • All the music you want. Any way you want it.

BaseCamp’s home page is so busy selling itself with:

  • Basecamp makes it easy to…
    • Centralize internal communication
    • Gather & archive client feedback
    • Share, assign, & prioritize to-do tasks
    • Upload, share, & deliver files
    • Schedule milestones and due dates
    • NEW Track people’s time
  • Basecamp is perfect for…
    • Internal and client projects
    • Freelancers & creative services firms
    • Consultants & PR/Marketing firms
    • Non-profits & schools
    • Publishers & musicians
  • Key benefits
    • Web-based & hosted — no install/IT
    • Simple fixed pricing — no per-user fees
    • Secure SSL (Premium & Plus plans)
    • Subscribe via iCal & RSS
    • Automatic email notifications
  • Alison 17 Oct 05

    eMusic has no DRM on their mp3’s. Once you’ve bought the music, you can do whatever you want with it. I’ve been with them for around a year now, and have been very happy with the service. Their indie selection is fantastic and growing constantly.

    James 17 Oct 05

    I can’t imagine the displeasure I would get from merely “renting” music under a subscription model.

    That, to me, is absolutely crazy.

    Do you also think of satellite radio services as crazy? If so, you’re standing on a sound personal rationale - one that works well for you, and one that you should stick to. If not, I would question your understanding of the digital music subscription model and its benefits.

    Reefdog 17 Oct 05

    @sxates: For a significant chunk of the market, the problem is that WM-DRM isn’t compatible with the iPod.

    @Darrel: Sort of both. You pay monthly, and get a set number of track downloads. I pay $10/month for 40 tracks. That’s the cheapest package (unless you try to cancel and they rope you in with some $5/month special or something), and as they go up, the price per-track gets cheaper and cheaper. It’s DRM-free, just VBR-encoded MP3s. They don’t have everything, but they have enough to keep me using up all my month’s tracks within a few days of the recharge. And when they get new albums on the day of release — like the The New Pornographers, Spoon, and Tom Waits — its damned nice.

    James 17 Oct 05

    James - I have no intention of ever paying for satellite radio. I can, however, see more benefit in that expense (which really is about providing finely targeted content where it otherwise doesn’t exist) than in a subscription model for digital music.

    Will 17 Oct 05

    Hahaha, sorry, that above post was from me.
    I typed your name without thinking, as I was replying to you.

    :)

    Dan Boland 17 Oct 05

    The same criticism against Napster Matt initially referred to applies equally well to BaseCamp.

    No, no it doesn’t. Napster is a service that sells music. Basecamp is a project management app. Napster selling the service and not the music is a valid complaint. What is Basecamp supposed to sell if not itself?

    sxates 17 Oct 05

    Reefdog,

    “@sxates: For a significant chunk of the market, the problem is that WM-DRM isn’t compatible with the iPod.”

    Isn’t the opposite true as well? That iTunes tracks won’t work on non-ipods? It’s not MS’s fault that their format isn’t supported on ipods, that’s apple’s doing. I’d complain to them :) I’d also complain to them about requiring you to buy an ipod. I’m all about options, and apple is giving me none (unless you count ipod-nano vs. shuffle vs. 30gig as a real choice).

    Reefdog 17 Oct 05

    Oh, I agree that the case is the same both ways. I would rather there be no DRM at all, or a universal DRM that everyone supported. (As for whose “fault” the lack of WMDRM-on-iPod or M4P-on-WMP is, I think all we can do is speculate, since I personally haven’t read any direct admissions of whodunnit.)

    But your question about what WM-DRM was “worse” than Apple DRM was prompted by someone who stated that WM-DRM was a deciding factor; I think it’s easy to assume that he said this because of iPod/iTunes compatibility, not out of dislike for WM-DRM in particular.

    Darrel 17 Oct 05

    What makes WM DRM any worse than Apple’s DRM?

    Apple’s is easily circumventable/strippable. Also, it works on my iPod if I choose not to strip it out.

    I think it’s easy to assume that he said this because of iPod/iTunes compatibility, not out of dislike for WM-DRM in particular.

    Both. I wouldn’t use iTunes if I weren’t able to strip the DRm off easily. I could burn to CD and back, which is OK, but still not ideal.

    There has been music I wanted to listen to in MD DRM format, but a) I don’t want any DRM on my purchased songs and b) yea, there’s no way to stick it on my iPod easily.

    eMusic has no DRM on their mp3’s.

    Why haven’t I tried eMusic yet? Adding it to my to-do list… ;o)

    Anonymous Coward 17 Oct 05

    “in MD DRM format”

    Er, WM DRM

    Ruy 17 Oct 05

    I really love the subscription model (it just makes sense to me - I demand a lot of new music and how many times can one listen to an album before it gets tired? 10? 20? Seems a lot cheaper to me to just pay the monthly fee and get all-you can eat new music).

    I *wanted* to love Napster - but I just couldn’t. First of all, they have a very poor selection - it’s very hard to find anything that isn’t 100% MTV-approved mainstream. This is the number one problem since it goes against the main selling point: unlimited music at your finger-tips for a monthly fee.

    Second of all, the interface is just… lacking. It always takes 1 too many clicks to get from where I am to where I want to be. It’s also very slow, even on my reasonably fast desktop.

    Third, within their limited selection, many new releases are purchace-only. This such an anti-customer thing to do! They want me to pay extra on top of the subscription just to download the stuff I really like. Pick a business model already!

    Finally, there’s the whole DRM business. I understand this problem goes much deeper then Napster, but having all my music tied to a desktop PC and a handfull of (extremely unexciting) Napster-approved MP3 players is such a huge drawback. I can’t get my music in the car or to go in my MP3 CD player (yeah I’m old school like that). This alone is a deal breaker.

    But like I said - I want subscription music. It makes sense to me. If the above problems were fixed, I’d gladly pay even more then $10/mo. $30/mo? Sure. I’d probably pay more if it were an absolutely spotless service with high-quality sound files and no restrictions I have to be aware of.

    Kyle 17 Oct 05

    @James: Finally another voice that shares my perspective on the subscription model. I don’t use Napster, but up until I became a Powerbook owner a few months ago, I was a Rhapsody subscriber for about a year and half.

    Rhapsody totally changed my perspective towards music. As long as their are subscription models available(Napster, Rhapsody, Yahoo), I don’t ever care about owning digitally downloaded music. About the only place I can’t listen to Rhapsody downloaded music is in my car (and I’m sure there’s a way to do it with Rhapsody to Go), which I hardly ever drive.

    Since I signed on to Rhapsdody, I’ve gone from spending roughly $1500-2500 a year on music, to under $150. And I probably listen to more music through Rhapsody than I did without. And Real does a rather remarkable job of carrying a fairly vast amount of content, and are fairly good with recommendations in most genres, including a fair amount of obscure and experimental music.

    As for iTunes, I can count on one hand the number of songs I’ve purchased through it, but it makes for a nice player of my past CD library. I’m much more excited about the video distribution in iTunes, as I don’t watch nearly as much TV, and can see forkin’ over a few bucks now and then for the 3 or 4 TV shows that I do watch.

    Oh, and I agree with the comment someone made about needing tabbed browsing in these apps(itunes & rhapsdoy), would make navigation much easier.

    Finally, Rhapsody or Yahoo really need to come out with a Mac version of their software, I’m dying here!

    James 17 Oct 05

    I *wanted* to love Napster - but I just couldn’t. First of all, they have a very poor selection - it’s very hard to find anything that isn’t 100% MTV-approved mainstream.

    I would definitely have to disagree completely on this point. But that’s a much longer discsussion for another time, another place. ;)

    Don Wilson 17 Oct 05

    Does anyone remember the Napster Superbowl ad that suggested…

    “Why use iTunes that takes $10,000 to fill up your iPod, vs. $10/mo on virtually any other music player?”

    Albeit, Napster used the same logic that this author did (in comparing the two different services).

    brad 17 Oct 05

    duh, that’s what happens when you forget to close your tags ;-)

    Dan Boland 17 Oct 05

    Don Wilson: I remember that ad… I also remember laughing at the assumption that people have no music when they first get their iPod.

    Eric 17 Oct 05

    Dan Boland write:

    No, no it doesn’t. Napster is a service that sells music. Basecamp is a project management app. Napster selling the service and not the music is a valid complaint. What is Basecamp supposed to sell if not itself?

    No, Napster does not sell music. They sell access to music (or if you prefer to think of it as rental, or subscription, that’s fine too). When you stop paying them your access to the music evaporates (although I suspect you can probably save some items on your MP3 after your subscription stops).

    Napster sells access to music. 37signals sells access to the BaseCamp web app. They’re both services. They both think it’s useful to explain what you get for your monthly fee.

    Eric 17 Oct 05

    Addendum. My parenthetical about keeping some music refers specifically to the Napster to Go service, which I take to be an optional add-on.

    TBD 17 Oct 05

    I like Beatport’s quick preview of songs and the collection of non-commercial music and mixes

    Dan Boland 17 Oct 05

    Eric: Using your words, Napster offers access to music. Okay, fine. Basecamp offers you access to your own shit that isn’t there until you put it there. You were talking about the Basecamp homepage selling itself. What else it is going to sell? The comparison makes no sense.

    Don Wilson 17 Oct 05

    One reason why Napster is better than iTunes: You can preview the whole song vs. the first 30 seconds.

    Luke 17 Oct 05

    I’d also like to point out that Musicmatch is a great substitute for the non-iPod folks. Much can probably be said about the streamlined way that the whole application blends everything together.

    I have used Musicmatch since I bought lifetime upgrades in 1999, and really have been pleased with the improvements made. The addition of radio stations and the store were really just icing on the cake. I have thought about switching to iTunes, but really don’t see any compelling reason to do so. The item that I appreciate the most, though, is the library management.

    The downside, as someone mentioned above with the Yahoo music service, is that it is Windows-only (although I keep hoping there will be a revisitation of that since they used to have a perfectly good Linux installation).

    I’m interested to see if anyone has another opinion on Musicmatch though, so do tell.

    Reefdog 17 Oct 05

    @Eric: Wasn’t the article denigrating the customer’s experience with Napster, not the website itself? In other words, the interface that paying customers use. In that respect, the difference is clear. A paying customer shouldn’t have the name and upgrade features of the product pushed on them at every turn; they should simply be shown the tools to use the item they already purchased. Thus, you can compare Napster.com to Basecamphq.com, and the Napster app’s usable interface to Basecamp itself, but not a mix of the two.

    James 17 Oct 05

    You, I, iTunes, and Napster can make all sorts of comparisons, of any kind, all day long - on blogs and in advertising. The question is whether or not they have merit, credibility and meaning, and whether or not they are effective comparisons.

    I use and like Napster, it doesn’t mean I advocate every ad they’ve run. I don’t think anyone has taken this opportunity to praise Napster’s ad campaign, although it HAS apparently passed technical/legal scrutiny, or else it wouldn’t be running.

    The issue that I originally took up was the biased, inept, incomplete and misleading write-up that was referenced in the originating post, and I stick by that assessment - favorite flavor of music store, DRM and subcription models be damned.

    James 17 Oct 05

    By showing only one iPod model and three MP3 players for Napster, it falsely implies that there’s only one iPod model available when there are several.

    So, by this logic, their ad is incredibly misleading in the sense that they only show pictures for 3 players compatible with Napster to Go, when in fact they SHOULD have shown pictures of OVER 20 DIFFERENT PLAYERS that are compatible. What a graphic that would have been.

    sxates 17 Oct 05

    To be fair, at the time that Napster ad was run, only 3 compatible players were available.

    But it WAS a fair comparison because the ad was comparing costs for filling a 20GB player, and apple only had 1 model with that capacity, while there were 3 napster players.

    Clark 17 Oct 05

    I used to love emusic until they were bought out and changed their service to limited downloads every month. They can stuff that. Subscription services don’t work for me - I want to buy, not worry if my subscription has run out. That sounds like radio to me.

    Unfortunately it’s pretty hard to download music “legally” in Taiwan and since I find cds prohibitively expensive I don’t purchase music.

    Don Wilson 17 Oct 05

    It implies that you have to spend $1 per song, which only applies if you use only the iTunes Music Store to get music for your iPod, instead of ripping the CDs you already own for free.
    It doesn’t need to compare two things that both services provide.

    By showing only one iPod model and three MP3 players for Napster, it falsely implies that there’s only one iPod model available when there are several.
    Using that logic, they also suggest that there are only three other MP3 players on the market?

    Eric 17 Oct 05

    I prefer iTunes, my only gripe… I wish I could listen to all of tracks on an album with one click instead of having to individually click each track.

    you can:

    http://www.dougscripts.com/itunes/scripts/scripts02.php?page=2#itunesmsp

    Reefdog 18 Oct 05

    Clark says: I used to love emusic until they were bought out and changed their service to limited downloads every month.

    Yeah, I remember those good ol’ days of unlimited downloads, too. Unfortunately, broadband penetration has come a long way since then, and I imagine they’d have a hard time staying profitable with that model. Considering the current method nets me a 10-track album for $2.50, encoded at a high-quality VBR, I’m quite satisfied. And if I simply adore an album — like The Arcade Fire’s Funeral — then I purchase the CD as well, so as to have a high-quality version with album packaging, and doubly-support good artists. Everybody wins.

    djfeiste 08 Jul 06

    Can anyone convince me that the “relevance” tab on itunes helps me in my quest for high quality recordings? Relevant to what? The source of the file? It’s not it’s clarity. Please explain.

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