HMV – His Master’s Videogame? Well there’s no music anymore… 21/10/08

Pop Justice is one of the finest music based pop websites around. True fact. If you’re a fan of pop music (which you should be as I firmly believe it has a space in everyone’s life) then their RSS feed is pretty much essential reading. You wouldn’t want to miss classic posts like this, or this, or this post which is the inspiration for this week’s Sentric Music blog.
 
It’s about the distinct lack of CD singles in Zavvi’s Oxford Street store and within their musings on the subject they list a few questions that raised some interesting points and prompted a hearty discussion here in the Sentric office. So here are my thoughts for those interested.
 
Make sure you’ve read the Pop Justice post in question first by clicking here before you read on…
 
» What constitutes ‘owning’ a song?
 
For me it comes down to either owning a tangible copy of the song in any form: CD, Vinyl, Cassette, Minidisc, Wax Cylinder etc (and note that these don’t have to be official copies of the song in question; if a friend gives me a CDr of the new Sugababes album then I’d still class that as me ‘owning’ it) or if the song in question is in a digital format then it has to be free of any DRM whatsoever for me to officially consider it ‘owned’. I want to be able to email it, transfer it onto countless external hard drives, portable USB sticks and MP3 players, edit it, delete it, restore it from my delete items, make it my phone ring tone and more. Quite simply I want the song to be my little bitch that lets me do what I want to it. When either of those two criteria is fulfilled then I ‘own’ that song.
 
I’ve bought a couple of things off iTunes in the past but the DRM restrictions still niggle me to the point of frustration. I’ve never owned an iPod (although I’m coming round to the idea of getting one which is a major technological landscape shift for me as I used to abuse Apple to the point of unfairness in the not so distant past) but if I did I still think I’d shy away from purchasing music from iTunes because of the DRM hidden within the track.
 
My current digital music squeeze is 7digital which is treating me marvellously I must say. A comprehensive catalogue with a high majority of it DRM free and in 320kbps. Lovely. Although there are a couple of areas where it needs sorting out, for example I pre-ordered the fantastic new single by Frank Turner ‘Long Live The Queen’ by mistake last Friday (I thought it had already been released) for 99p and on Sunday morning 12:35am they emailed me telling me it was ready to download (why not Monday when the new chart starts?). So on Monday morning when I arrived at work I logged on to download the audible delight only to see it on the front page for 50p. That’s a bit cheeky isn’t it? Surely they should be rewarding the fans (or idiots who don’t do their research) that have pre-ordered the track before its release date to help it gain chart entry rather than charging them double the price they could have bought it for two days later?

(*NOTE* Since originally posting this blog Ian Bell at 7Digital left a comment which you should all read informing me why I’m wrong about the chart cycle. I was also wrong about the Frank Turner for 50p malarkey. It was just misleadingly placed on their frontpage underneath a banner that read ‘Track Downloads from 50p’ – Frank wasn’t one of them! See – I admit it when I’m wrong!)
 
Also, and this is a smaller gripe that again could have been avoided if I did some prior research (anyone seeing a pattern?), I went to download ‘Emily’ by Stephen Fretwell and after I searched for the track I purchased the restricted 192kbps WMA version which wouldn’t even play on my Creative Zen MP3 Player then after looking again I bought the same song of the album it was part of that came without DRM and at better sound quality! Why even have the restricted version on there?
 
Anyway, apart from that 7digital gets my thumbs up.

» If you can’t see or hold something is it worth spending money on?
 
Bit of a silly question if you ask me as the whole service industry would be down the pan if anyone answered ‘no’ to this, so yes, of course it is.

» Does that question alter if what you’re spending money on is something you only intend to listen to?
 
I’ve talked about my inertia for tangible music before in past blogs so I’d stick with my answer to the previous question. For me personally it’s about the music, the song, the lyrics, the memories that it conjures up in my clouded mind , the transition between the middle eight and final verse, the abundance of cow bell, the colloquialisms of the lyrical content etc. The packaging simply does nothing for me. Does that make me a bad person? I don’t want to drown kittens; I just want to listen to music. Since 7digital vastly increased its ‘without-DRM’ library I’m now spending more money on buying music than ever. The day Apple makes iTunes wholly DRM free I predict I’ll be bankrupt within the fiscal year.

» If you cannot legally buy something, are you somehow entitled to illegally download it?

An interesting point that will probably be seen as chintzy to the generic major label big wigs but arguably rather true. If the only way I could acquire a rare live recording of Criminal Mind by Gowan (one for you there Dad) is by illegally downloading it then I would. Again, does that make me a bad person?

» Is it alright to illegally download a song in order to punish a label for not making it legally available sooner/legally available in higher quality download/legally available as a CD single?
 
Here we start getting into a grey area. I would suggest that it isn’t alright for all three of the above reasons and this is coming from a self confessed audiophile. Digital music stores are getting better at increasing the quality of the music that they sell. People smarter than I inform us all that the human ear can’t differentiate sound quality over 128kbps (although I’m slightly dubious about that) so I think you’d be being a tad too cheeky if you illegally downloaded for those reasons.

» If you illegally download a song for any of the above reasons, do you consider the direct impact this has on what the artist and label will be able to produce in the future?


This for me is a pointless question as there are really only two answers; ‘Yes – but I couldn’t care less’ or ‘No – but I’ll probably still do it anyway now that I’ve thought of it’. As long as artists continue to monetise other areas of their art then they should be fine. In theory.

» Should stores like HMV and Zavvi, which built their business on music sales, cater for minority buyers out of some sort of loyalty?
 
Not at all. I agree it’s a bizarre feeling to walk into a Zavvi and actively have to search for the music section in the masses of Xbox and PS3 games but its simple economics at the end of the day. If I’m honest it baffles me why you’d buy anything more than a small percentage of your CD’s in shops like Zavvi or HMV anymore these days when you can buy the tangible version online for cheaper at play.com or amazon.co.uk. Apart from impulse buys I rarely shop for CD’s anywhere other than the internet anymore… what credit crunch eh?

» Is 79p for a song better value than £1.99 for a CD single containing the song you want and the song you don’t want?
 
It shows how spoilt I am these days when I think twice before spending 99p on a track rather than 79p so to think about the hedonistic old days where I’d spend 20% of my weekly pocket money on a Dum Dum’s single down at Wollies makes me feel so much older (and yet not that much wiser). Remember when you’d go down to Woolworth’s to buy that track you’d been waiting so long to get your hands on and by chance they’d made it ‘pick of the week’ so it was only 99p?! I rarely get that excited over anything anymore.
 
The choice we have as music consumers now is quite simply awesome in the truest sense of the word. We can buy pretty much any song that has ever been released for 79p! Imagine if someone told me that when I was 13 years old? And then on top of that we don’t even need to buy a full album if we don’t want to. Just the highlights and singles! Granted, if you follow music with a passion rather than an interest that doesn’t really matter to you but for the Joe Bloggs of this world (whose money keeps the industry afloat may I add) it’s incredibly important.

» What sort of price would you put on being able to listen to a song as often as you like, forever?
With all things considered I’d be happy to pay £1 for an intangible, digital track with no restrictions and high quality sound. And I’d double that for tangible (if I was arsed). Innovators like iTunes have undervalued music in order to get a foothold in the marketplace and have now set a standard that other digital stores have to follow. If music wasn’t both my love and livelihood then I’d be in the right mind to say something significantly lower than £1, potentially even free.

» How frequently do you listen to CD singles you purchased six years ago, or take them off the shelf or out of the cupboard to admire their beautiful packaging?
 
Although I couldn’t care to put a number on the amount of CD singles I bought in my youth (if not ever) I genuinely don’t think I’d know where any of them are now. Maybe in a box in the loft at my parent’s house? Thrown away? Given away? Lost in-between the countless times I’ve moved flats? The last CD single I bought was Rehab by Amy Winehouse and I haven’t got the slightest idea where that is anymore, but I could tell you where my copy of her album is. Surely that’s the joy of the single? It’s an appetiser for what the album could potentially offer your musical collection. You buy the single, then after a couple of weeks if it’s still getting regular plays on your stereo then you go and take the plunge and buy the album hoping it will offer some form of musical consistency.
 
» Can anything be done to re-educate an entire generation who’ve grown up with music being ‘free’?
 
Does it even matter? Why re-educate a generation in something they don’t need to know about? That question sums up why the music industry got into trouble in the first place. It should read: How can we attract a new generation of consumers who embrace the free model and don’t care for tangible products as much as previous generations did?
 
I’m going to make a bold statement here. You ready?
 
Attention the tangible CD single; good bye, on your way, toodle pip, you’re defunct, ciao, close the door behind you.
 
What I’m listening to this week: The Frank Turner single I mentioned earlier, Baddies and Detroit Social Club.

What I’m reading this week: Why Pop Justice of course…

Stay tuned.

sP

~ by Sentric on October 21, 2008.

2 Responses to “HMV – His Master’s Videogame? Well there’s no music anymore… 21/10/08”

  1. I remember the days when I’d buy 10 or more CD singles per week. New releases from Woolies/HMV, and promos/rare stuff from the Music & Video Exchange on Notting Hill Gate.

    The result of that is I now have several boxes of the damn things shoved in a cupboard, probably never going to be played again.

    Not to mention all the 7″ and 12″ singles. I don’t even have a record player any more.

  2. Hello from 7digital!

    Thanks for your support of our service. I just wanted to respond on a couple of issues.

    First, the chart week for downloads now runs from Sunday through to Monday (so if you purchased a download on Sunday 19th (or pre-ordered before then), the sale will count to the chart published this weekend rather than last weekend). Certain record labels stick with Monday for digital releases, but others sensibly exploit the extra day and makes downloads available from the Sunday. Hence you received the reminder email on the Sunday when the download became available.

    Second, once we’ve made the editorial decision to discount a track or album for the week of release, we drop the price as soon as possible for pre-orders to prevent cases such as you describe. Occasionally this decision has to be made close to release because of changing release schedules, but we do our best to limit legitimate grievances in this area.

    The Frank Turner case has us very confused as – great as Frank is – the track you mention was not discounted to our knowledge. If you can forward your receipt through to support@7digital.com, we can take a look at what may have happened.

    Regarding Stephen Fretwell, the content that was originally delivered to us as WMA is currently being re-delivered as MP3, but there are inevitable gaps in these redeliveries.
    We desperately want to remove any WMA content from the store, and we’re doing so at some speed. At the same time we’re reluctant to remove content from view entirely where we don’t have an MP3 version available, and in this case it applies to the B-side of “Emily”. We’re not permitted to upgrade older WMA purchases, but would ask anybody who purchased a WMA track and subsequently realised that there was a version available in MP3 at the time they purchased to get in touch with 7’s Customer Services via the store.

    Love the site!

    Best wishes – Ian, 7digital

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