The dismal little online music shop that Steve Jobs opened on Monday has already received its share of lukewarm reviews.
One reader, describing the paucity of music available, compared it to "an airport bookstall, only without the gum and cigarettes".
It's certainly innovative: instead of taking out a monthly subscription to allow DRM infect your computer, Apple gives you the infection on the spot. No subscription is required: you can receive the disease at 99 cents per injection, until either your money runs out, or the Apple store runs out of contaminated music.
This certainly seems to rankle readers, who expect better from this systems company with an illustrious history, and high expectations that it must Do The Right Thing.
For example, Apple insists that if you lose your music, you must repurchase it.
As reader Don Montalvo (and many others) point out: Apple has your ID information and your address. Presumably this information is recorded on an electronic database, somewhere [*], along with a list of infected music you have purchased through the store.
"I'm all for Apple's great new music idea," says Don, "But I'm afraid Apple made it easy for us to have to 'repurchase' all our music if the shit hits the fan. I feel they should be responsible for giving us a way to redownload without having to repay".
This is certainly one area where an online music could compensate for the loss of rights. If you lose or scratch a CD, the Pigopolists will not send a courier round to your house to replace it. But an online music store could.
One must not lose sight of the fact that share denial technology (DRM) is a subtle form of social engineering. It's a technology of social control that alters our behavior and expectations every so slightly. But these little alterations, you tell us, matter a lot.
So we lose rights, and gain very little convenience. The web has made it easy to go to a wonderful station such as WFMU [**], run by music lovers, and then when you hear something great (as you assuredly will) go to the Web to find the labels themselves, or an online store and buy your CD. You can then play it on any computer you like, and you don't need to ask Steve Jobs' or Hilary Rosen's permission.
Apple can change the rights policy at any time, too. Trammel Hudson writes:
"I suspect that the DRM issue will start to hit people soon after the early adopters (with their iPods) have all signed up.
"Once the late adopters (who don't necessarilly have iPods, but might have Rios or other MP3 players) find out that they can not transfer their purchased songs to any other player, I predict the public perception of the DRM problems will become much larger."
He reminds us that other online music services do not offer music contaminated by DRM. "Save DRM" is an odd banner for music loving Macophiles to rally around. We suspect few will.
(Judging from my inbox, happy users are outnumbered by unhappy users by about ten to one. A better catalog and more generous rights management will alleviate some, but not all of the abstainers. There's certainly alot of room for improvement.)
But one unexpected aspect of the service was brought to our attention by reader and Mac veteran John Maas, who discovered that the Puritan prudes find some titles too offensive to publish in their original form.
No, not Gangsta Rap: but one of the jazz greats. This illustration by John makes the point very well.
When you search for Bitches Brew, Apple has censored the title of Miles' funky voodoo to read B***ches Brew.
Curiously too, when you search for Miles Davis no songs from the classic are returned.
As John points out, Jeff Bezos boldly treads where Steve Jobs timidly tiptoes.
Sugared water, indeed. Not the Real Thing. ®
[*] Bootnote #1: This is a little in-joke for those of you who followed the Microsoft AntiTrust trial: at one stage Microsoft produced an absurd excuse for its failure to comply with a request to produce its licensing records. It said it couldn't, because the information was written down on paper.]
[**] Bootnote #2: or a live stream in the "Public" section of your iTunes Radio service.