Sunday, 7 December 2008

Heavy Downloading. Do you?

Troubled as Heavy Soil is by the weight and volume of its collection of compact discs, mp3s have long shimmered, mirage-like, as an attractively portable, low-maintenance and (above all) neat means by which to own music.

Obstacles to my adoption of (paid-for) downloading of music, however, have been numerous.

(Well, there are four of them. Which is a number. So numerous.)

1. Cost
Considering the infinitesimal cost of a single mp3 to the vendor (by which I mean the lack of physical material costs, shelf space costs, distribution costs &c), it has always annoyed me that an mp3 album is so close in price to its CD equivalent.

Especially since the quality of artwork supplied with most downloads is pitiful (come on! A single bloody thumbnail replica of the CD cover?), I feel cheated of the added-value aspects of a CD purchase. As the (altogether rather inspired) Andrew Dubber has said many a time on his New Music Strategies blog, there is vast scope for innovation in terms of the electronic freebies bundled with an mp3 download. Without prohibitive printing costs, why not include a pdf e-book chronicling an album's creation process? Demo tracks? Photos from the sessions? Videos? All things that would previously have added hugely to production/distribution costs -- now easily within reach.

2. Transferability
Thanks to the DRM copy-protection built into many mp3s available online, I am prevented from copying/sharing/freely moving my music collection. Making mp3s significantly worse than CDs – from which songs may be ripped and shared ad infinitum.

3. Quality
Often, I don't mind listening to music at 128kbps. If I'm on the bus – or listening through my computer speakers – other factors are contributing far more significantly to downgrading my listening experience than the bitrate of the mp3. But I balk – once again – at paying a premium rate (given my comments in point 1) for a product that is inferior in quality. Buying a CD, I know that the choice is mine as to the quality at which I rip the tracks. Paying to download from vanilla iTunes, I am hobbled with the worst option.

4. Choice
Here, I think, is possibly the weightiest factor in my reticence to download, however. And it's a wee smidgin on the paradoxical side.

On the internet (as many have pointed out) we have become used to getting things free. That paradigm is lodged in our minds.

The fact of this became starkly clear to me, when I realised I'd spent an hour or so searching for a free equivalent of an iPhone application I'd found that would have cost me £1.49 to buy. Because I instinctively thought: there will be a free version of that.

I'm a relatively busy fellow, who values his time highly. And – in retrospect – that wasted hour was worth far, far more to me than the £1.49 I saved myself. I don't particularly enjoy lengthy online bargain-hunts (let's be honest, indeed: I abhor them), and could certainly afford the sum in question. But my instinct led me to broaden the search.

Likewise, I have found that vast online stores such as Amazon often serve to increase my tendency to vacillate and procrastinate rather than make a purchase. If I am to shop efficiently, I know I must either discipline myself consciously (ie. set myself a time limit, budget &c in advance of commencing the online shop) or do things the old-fashioned way: get my ass out the door and into the city centre.

This is because – online – I have an inbuilt expectation: if I search longer, harder and more diligently, I will find a better/cheaper/more desirable version of this product.

In Oxford city centre, by contrast, I know exactly what shops are available, and how likely they are to contain desirable and valued items. The selection on offer is reassuringly (and purchase-encouragingly) finite – even at the same time as it may be frustrating.


I think this choice factor has been discussed less extensively than my aforelisted factors 1-3. But I think it's hugely important. Especially to vacillators and postponers such as myself.

What think'st, o readers? What are the top factors that detain you from (or encourage you to) download rather than buying physical copies?

Tell us, tell us, my pretties ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have been contemplating joining the digital revolution by obtaining an iPod of some description, simply for the convenience of being able to carry a lot of music without having to put CDs in a wallet (or bringing my laptop everywhere). However, I would never buy an MP3 so long as the CD equivalent was available. The convenience and speed does not outweight the quality and tangibility of a physical product, in my eyes at least.

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