Two weeks ago the hard disk on my iPod packed up, rendering it even more useless than if the battery had failed (as is more common). It's a second generation iPod, bought in April 02003, just a few weeks before the third generation (cheaper, bigger) was announced, which made me sick as the proverbial talking zygodactyl. Having been caught out once, I naturally paused before rushing out to buy a new one.
And when I paused I realised that the smart thing to do is to save my money for as long as possible. I assume a lot of iPod users have fairly big music collections — though the stats suggest I'm at the top end even of this group. I have just under 2,000 albums and buy CDs fairly regularly, if less frequently than I used to (see details). According to last week's IFPI report, the average person in the UK bought 2.9 albums last year, more than the average in any other country. For that to be true, it must be that for every consumer like me, there are about thirty who buy no albums at all.
Maybe I should be content with the collection I've already got, but I'm not. Twenty years ago I'd probably have said that 2,000 albums was 'enough', but now I want 10,000. Not that I'm ever going to have 10,000. I haven't got the storage space for them; neither am I willing to pay 8,000 times even the £5-7 that re-issued back catalogue albums retail for; and buying digital copies, with less than CD-quality sound and Digital Rights Management restrictions is not a sensible long-term investment.
For addicts like me, the solution that makes most sense is subscription services like Yahoo! Music Unlimited and Napster to Go, which give unrestricted access to catalogues of over a million tracks for monthly subscriptions of $7-£15. I wouldn't care that I didn't own the songs, because I'd be paying a lot less than I currently do, and still have a bit left over to buy the obscure albums that aren't included in the catalogues. A subscription service also offers the prospect that, when the audio quality of digital downloads increases, I'd be able to get the improved versions straight away.
I could get the subscription service now, but I'd have to buy a Windows PC and an MP3 player that plays Windows Media files. That's not going to happen: I'm not going to the hassle of another computer and getting to grips with a different, third-rate operating system. I'd prefer to wait until Apple launches an iTunes subscription service. I wait in the full knowledge that I may be waiting several years, because Steve Jobs won't do it until he absolutely has to, and for now he's quite happy to leave Napster & co sweating it out building awareness for subscription services that so far are unprofitable. (Some commentators think he may never have to, but I'd bet against that because I think the buying power of the small number of premium-spenders like me will make itself felt. [Update, 15 August 02005: Business Week has today published its analysis of exactly this issue.])
All of which means… that I'm not buying anything at the moment. For listening when walking round town, I've dug out my old portable minidisc player, and will be reacquainting myself with old minidisc recordings (again, I was an early adopter of minidisks, so I don't have a player with a USB port to convert those recordings to make them iTunes/iPod friendly). If that palls after a while, I'll buy the cheapest iPod Shuffle I can find, on the basis that eight hours of music is enough for 95% of my journeys, and I can put up with 'refilling' it. I plan to stick with that at least until the next major iPod upgrade, and hopefully changes to the iTunes Music Store. Until then, buying more iTunes tracks — I've got a whole 32 so far — is on hold. And CD buying will be limited to those with limited distribution available direct from artists at gigs, good offers on back catalogue (e.g. the Duke Ellington 13-CD-set I got for £15 last year from Fopp) and special editions (like Revenant's Albert Ayler box set).
If anyone marketing the music industry reads this, I'd be glad to be sold on any alternative, better solutions to meeting my needs, and I'm willing to pay for them.Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Future of Music, Music and Multimedia on 8 August 02005 | TrackBack