When Anthony Marrian purchased the comprehensive Bob Dylan “digital box” from Apple’s iTunes music store, which retails for a not insignificant £169.99, he was looking forward to playing it both at home and when out and about with his iRiver H340 music player. He was disappointed to discover that the files were “not recognized” by his player and complained to Apple.
I told them that at no point during the sales process was there any indication that the download would only work on an iPod. They replied that all their sales were non-refundable.
This resulted in “My name is Patrick and I will be assisting you. I understand that you are unhappy about not getting a refund for your Bob Dylan album. I know that can be frustrating”. Patrick then invited me to leave feedback on a web page which states “Comments will be read but not replied to”. After I’d suggested to Patrick that leaving additional feedback was likely to be a waste of time given that he had already replied to the only feedback I wished to leave, I got an email from Sam who said that in this one, exceptional, case s/he was prepared to refund me.
Kudos to Apple for the refund, which surprises me. I doubt it was legally required, since the iTunes small print includes all sorts of restrictions. But Marrian’s experience illustrates the DRM problem: many customers of online music stores have an expectation that they can make full personal use of what they buy, when the reality is different.
Even without the DRM Marrian would have problems, since the iRiver device does not support the AAC codec. He could have burned the tracks to CD and ripped them back as MP3 (with loss of quality); or he could have used unauthorised DRM-stripping software to remove the DRM and then converted them using a utility, again with loss of quality. Apparently Apple’s customer service folk did not propose either solution, and I agree with them: if you spend £169.99 on music you don’t expect to have to jump through hoops to play it.
The situation seems almost hopeless. If Microsoft prosper with Zune, then the world gets yet another lock-in DRM scheme to contend with; yet even that may be better for the consumer than a continuing lack of effective competition for iTunes/iPod.
The irony is that pirates who freely exchange copyright MP3 or even non-lossy Flac music files are getting a better product than the law abiding folk who are willing to buy legal downloads.
The best hope is that either anti-trust regulators like the Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman force Apple and others to give consumers a better deal; or that potential customers like Anthony Marrian simply refuse to buy on the terms currently offered.
I’m also in the latter camp. In fact, the latest iTunes music store appears to be blocked by my firewall; I get this:
I’m in no hurry to get it fixed.
Frank Shaw says phones will beat the iPod. Maybe. Three things though:
1. We haven’t seen the Apple phone yet.
2. The telecom companies may have the hardware, but have not yet matched the iTunes music store to win download purchases.
3. Integration. Apple does a great job of integrating internet store/PC or Mac/iPod; and is bringing the home TV into the loop as well. Oh yes, and all those iPod docks fitted in cars these days. To win you need to match the whole ecosystem, not just a part.