iTunes Music Store: Not a global village store

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iTunes, Music, Technology
March 14th, 2005 • 8:14 am

Here’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with the iTunes Music Store as it currently exists.

My favorite French musician Jean-Louis Murat has just released an Internet-only EP titled “1829”.

According to this page, it’s available through various on-line music stores, including iTunes.

But here’s the catch: If I click on the link to the iTunes Music Store on that page, I get a screen in iTunes that says:

Your search “Jean-Louis Murat” did not match any results.

How come? Well, quite simply because when they say “iTunes Music Store,” they actually mean “iTunes Music Store (France) only.” And I am in Canada. So I have access to the iTunes Music Store (Canada) store, but that’s it. If I want something from the iTunes Music Store (France)—or from any other iTunes Music Store, for that matter—too bad.

Yet if the album was released on CD, I could easily order it from from the comfort of my Canadian office chair, without any restrictions.

I know that these restrictions that apply to the iTunes Music Store (and probably to other on-line music stores as well) are probably due to legal reasons. The music labels have country-specific contracts, and this particular EP is not getting a domestic release in any country other than France at this point. (And it probably never will.)

But that’s precisely the problem: Why should an on-line release be country-specific? It doesn’t make any sense other than from a purely legal point of view. And even then, it’s based on outdated legal requirements.

Whatever happened to the utopia of the “global village?” One of the wonders of the Internet is precisely that it removes borders. Yet outlets such as the iTunes Music Store reintroduce them where they have been removed. It’s absurd. It’s purely driven by business and legal considerations. It has nothing to do with the artists and it has nothing to do with the artists’ admirers.

In addition, since I live in a country with a sizable French-language population, I am quite sure that I am not the only one who might be interested in releases from the French iTunes Music Store. Somehow this doesn’t appear to have entered the minds of those in charge. Of course we are not talking about big potential sales here. (Highly popular French artists do get released domestically in Canada and, presumably, via the Canadian iTunes Music Store too. I don’t really know. I am not interested in this kind of music.) But the costs of releasing music on-line are clearly lower than the costs of releasing CDs, so there is no reason to restrict on-line music store releases to highly popular artists. That’s precisely one of the promises on on-line music stores: that it will be easier to find music than through traditional record stores. Yet the exact opposite is happening!

It’s no wonder that “illegal” peer-to-peer file sharing networks continue to thrive. They might be illegal and they might not very reliable, but at least they don’t impose any such restrictions on who is allowed to get what.

Unfortunately for me, with my pokey dial-up connection, such networks are not accessible. Fortunately, this particular release, the 1829 EP, will come out on CD later on this year (in May), at which time I will be able to purchase it from without any restrictions.

But how soon before there is an Internet-only release that I want that does not get released on CD? Thanks to music business executives and lawyers, I will then have to go through a very complicated process of getting someone in France to buy it for me and then put it on a CD-R for me and send it through the mail.

Clearly the whole country-based business model has to be rethought. I have yet to see any sign that Apple and the major music labels are doing that. And I have yet—surprise, surprise—to purchase anything from the iTunes Music Store (Canada).

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