Bit, Meet Brick

Buying content digitally is great...sometimes. As I've said before, I have some rules for buying content digitally vs. physically.

  1. If I can't buy it physically

  2. If I'm massively impatient and need it NOW

  3. If I'm exploring and don't know if it's worth $10 or $20 for the full album or film

I definitely won't buy albums digitially if I can get them physically. This applies even when I have to wait for Amazon to ship it, or burn gas to hit Best Buy across town.

Recent developments make me want to break my rules. Many albums are now available in the iTunes store before they are released. Sometimes they haven't released in the US. Sometimes, they haven't released physically, period. Examples of this include Hybrid's latest album, and DJ Shadow's album, which just came out this week physically, but has been available digitally for a while.

The thing is, why do I have to choose? I like holding a CD in my hands. I like looking at the album art. I like to smell the printing chemicals. No, really, I do.

The bits and bricks need to get together. I should be able to buy an album, at a premium, in the iTunes store. I'd get the immediate downloads and I'd get a physical copy, complete with the art and smells, shipped to my house. The bits guys get a cut, the bricks guys get a cut.

But Apple doesn't make any money with the iTunes store, you cry. Well, maybe they don't make much, but I'm sure they'd like even a tiny cut of a fraction of the physical albums sold. I think they should partner up with someone like Amazon (did he just call Amazon a brick?) and sell digital and physical. Everything will continue to function like it does today. Your iPod still gets loaded instantly, but then the CD will show up a few days later for use in the car, archival, your collection, or even just as an uncompressed version of the content.

Even better, this would allow me to buy the albums I want as soon as they are available digitally, but not feel guilty that I don't have the physical copy as well. It would just ship when it did get released.

If you want another reason why Apple should do this, we'll return to the new DJ Shadow album. Shadow is quite possibly my favorite artist, but I stayed away from buying it early on the iTunes store because I wanted the album experience and I wasn't going to pay for the album twice. I'll save that cash for the import singles :) What's worse is that buying the album at Best Buy gave me two free digital downloads, yay! Too bad the digital downloads are PC only and use Windows Media with DRM. I'm not 100% Mac, so I was able to download them, burn them to CD and then rip them back in to iTunes, but that just sucks, and what about those folks that don't know you can do such a thing. If they are iPod users, they are robbed of those tracks. Even worse, I think those tracks are 2 of the best of the whole album, but that's another post.

Now it goes the other way. If you bought the album from the iTunes store, you are stuck with iTunes or an iPod, but you probably don't care if you are buying the album from the iTunes store. The only format choice I made in Best Buy was CD. The .wma shackles were tossed in with the bonus that Best Buy gives its customers. Way to treat your customers Best Buy. Thanks for buying that CD here. Let me give you a gift you can't use!

Best Buy could do this too. Join up with Napster or Rhapsody. Do your thing. Add value rather than compete with each other. It's all choice. If you don't want the physical disc, you can still buy for $9.99. If you want the CD too, maybe it costs $14.99.

The same concept holds with DVD, TV shows, and books. Paying again for a digital copy is old and tired. The company that gives the consumer value in the formats they want to use will win.

1 comment:

Jason said...

I agree, I still like having both forms of media. Just burning my digital purchases doesn't cut it either, as I don't get the full album artwork (although having cover art on everything is really sweet now).

At one point when DRM was first coming to the forefront, just after Napster, some record labels were somewhat doing this themselves. They would include on the physical CD, digital versions as well. I think it would be better though to leave the CD unmolested, and do some sort of deal like this where you get both seperately.

I was curious what you thought of the new DJ Shadow stuff. It hasn't gotten favorable reviews many places.