Shareware Beach

Monday, 2 May 2005

My First Online Music Purchase

Filed under: Cyberspace — Jan @ 21:12

If my recent posts about online music services thought I was an old hand at buying music downloads, that’s unfortunately not the case. I say “unfortunately”, because most services simply don’t want to take my money. “U.S. residents only” they say. So much for the global reach of the Internet.

It makes no sense. has never refused to sell me a CD. I’ve ordered over a dozen from them over the years, mostly music that isn’t mainstream and impossible to find in stores. If Amazon can export U.S. music, then so can download services if they really want to. Adding local music from around the world to their catalogs would obviously take more time and effort. imposes no territorial restrictions. Their catalog seems to consist entirely of music by little-known artists. I guess that since they don’t have deals with the major record labels, MP3tunes has much more freedom in setting their own policies. They sell songs for 88 cents and albums for $8.8 US. The songs are high-bitrate MP3 files without any kind of copy protection. You can even re-download all the songs you’ve purchased at any time, in case you didn’t make a backup. So far so good.

Before you enter your credit card details on their site, one word of warning: once you’ve logged in, all “buy now” buttons do exactly that: with one click, you’ve bought the song or CD and your card is charged. That wouldn’t be so bad (in fact, it would be really convenient) if it was possible to cancel the purchase. Buying a CD does not automatically start the download. So until you’ve downloaded the music for the first time, the download page could easily show a refund button. Downloading is also a bit more cumbersome than it should be, at least if you’re not using a download manager. Unlike the one-click buy, there’s no one-click download. I’d rather download the whole album as one .zip file.

But none of that will stop MP3tunes from becoming a success. The real problem is that it’s simply too cumbersome to discover new music on With a catalog of unknown artists, easy discovery is a vital feature. What I’ve found most annoying is that the 30-second samples have to be downloaded. They don’t stream in once you click on them, like the samples on Sampling a CD takes time. Click on a song, wait for the download, listen to the sample, repeat. A 5-minute streaming CD sampler (i.e. an MP3 of 30-second samples stiched together) would be far more convenient.

The music is also poorly categorized. When you click on an album in one category, the breadcrumbs at the top of the album page often indicate a completely different category. It seems many albums are placed in multiple categories. A cheap trick to make a catalog look larger. Unfortunately, it quickly backfires. If I expect to hear a reggea beat but my laptop’s speakers blast rock music, I’m not impressed. Not to mention if I’m going to wait for another 30-second sample download.

The company claims they “spotlight emerging artists”. If they really want to promote artists, Internet radio would be a far better medium than 30-second samples. Radio plays in the background while I work. Listening to samples is an activity that doesn’t mix well with tasks that require concentration. So it’s unlikely MP3tunes’ artists are going to get much of my listening time.

1 Comment

  1. CDBaby really DO support emerging artists. They are also great to deal with. I have also found to be great for downloading MP3’s.

    Comment by daniel — Friday, 15 July 2005 @ 22:04

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