CDs Cheaper than Downloads
Little noted during the past year's hoopla about the success of Apple Computer's iTunes Music Service and its slew of online competitors was the real cost to music fans. During the first week of April, reports appeared in Wired News, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere exposing the fact that many recordings cost more in virtual form than they do as physical products.
Apple hyped its service at 99¢ cents per song/$9.99 per album, but it has been charging $16.99 for the popular Fly or Die by hip-hop group N.E.R.D. The same title can be downloaded from the now-legal Napster for $13.99, although the CD is available for $13.49 from Amazon.com, notes Ethan Smith of the WSJ in an April 7 report. A chart accompanying his piece compares prices of downloads for several current titles to prices available from traditional retailers, compiled from figures supplied by researchers at the newspaper and by market research firm NPD Group.
Grammy winner Norah Jones' new release, Feels Like Home, for example, sells for $12.58 at retail outlets, $13.49 at Amazon.com, $12.87 on iTunes, $13.99 on Napster, and $11.99 on MusicMatch. OutKast's monster hit Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is $15.99 in stores, $16.99 at Amazon.com, $16.49 on MusicMatch, and $19.98 on iTunes or Napster. Peter Yorn's Musicforthemorningafter is $10.88 in stores, $10.99 on MusicMatch, and $13.99 at Amazon.com, iTunes, and Napster.
It obviously pays to do some comparison shopping, especially given that downloads and CDs are not the same products. CDs are actually better values—they're full bandwidth with full packaging, liner notes, and often, some hidden or extra features. Use is less restrictive—you can make a copy to play in your car, loan it to a friend, and when you tire of hearing it, sell it to a used record store. Downloads have lower sound quality, in general can't be copied—or copied much—don't come with any artwork, and have zero resale value. Reporters who jumped on this phenomenon didn't mention great deals available through music clubs like Columbia House (four CDs for approximately $32, including tax and shipping) or through used-disc clearing houses like Spun.com.
iPods and similar portable music players, of course, don't have to be loaded from download services. You can sample your own CD collection to travel, a fact conveniently glossed over by download sources' PR machines.