Why Hate on iTunes?

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Poor iTunes. Well, not literally poor… iTunes has become the world’s largest music retailer, selling 50 gazillion songs and bringing in a pile of money a mile high. But everyone seems to hate iTunes. They hate the DRM, or Digital Rights Management, that restricts the devices you can play your legally downloaded song on. They hate the sound of those compressed digital files. Or they hate the user interface, or the lack of Beatles music, or the way those little 99 cent songs add up to a ton of money surprisingly fast.

Oh, and most of these people use iTunes.

Why do so many people use something they hate? Because people love their iPods, and if you have an iPod you have to have iTunes. 10 years from now, I imagine we’ll look back at these early years of digital downloading and wonder how we let one company basically determine how millions of people would access their own music. But for the moment, I use iTunes for only one of its two functions: it manages the music on my iPod. I do not use it to access the store and buy music. And if I could figure out an easier way to manage my music that would actually work with my iPod, I’d probably go for it. It’s not that I hate iTunes. The DRM thing bothers me in theory, not in practice. I don’t have 5 computers to play my music on anyway, so limiting me to 5 machines is no real problem. The Beatles music I just load in from CDs. The sound quality, well yeah, it’s less than a cd, but when you’re driving in the car a compressed file actually cuts through the noise better. No, I just find iTunes to be stupid and clunky. Especially the iTunes store. If I want to buy a song, and eMusic.com doesn’t have it, then I’d rather go to Amazon.com, which is a lot easier to navigate.

Speaking of eMusic.com, I find their buy-in-bulk monthly subscription model to be a fine alternative to iTunes. Sort of the Costco of digital music. And everything is mp3 format, so you can do whatever you want with it once you’ve bought it. Problem with them is, they do not have access to any of the major labels – probably because of their consumer-friendly price model and the freedom they give you once you’ve bought a song. This is Steve Jobs’s answer as well to critics of his iTunes DRM restrictions – that he’s all for doing away with DRM, but the major labels won’t work with him then. There may be some truth in that, but I would love to see Jobs do it anyway and dare the industry to find a real alternative. Hey, if you’re the 600 pound gorilla, you should throw that weight around occasionally.

But for now, our question to you is: iTunes – musical savior, or destroyer?