iTunes Plus Stumbles

I was really looking forward to the new DRM-free high-bitrate iTunes downloads. I’m actually more interested in the high-bitrate upgrade rather than the lack of DRM. The iTunes DRM never got in the way of anything I wanted to do, so I was quite content to put up with it.

So now iTunes Music Store has finally rolled out iTunes Plus and it looks quite attractive. There’s quite a lot of good content available, though it is still a bit limited. I was excited to about the prospect of upgrading my current library to the high-bitrate versions, so I eagerly clicked on the button to upgrade the library and then came up against a serious drawback.

The upgrade is all-or-nothing.

Now it’s not a complete disaster for me. My iTunes Music Store purchases have mostly been for things not available on CD and a few individual tracks here and there where I didn’t want to buy a whole album. So I don’t have a lot of upgradeable music. In fact, it’s only 2 albums and two individual tracks, or 18 tracks total.

But even there I face a dilemma with the upgrade. Of the two tracks, one of them I ended up buying the album on CD and ripping it at high-bitrate, so I already have a DRM-free high-bitrate version I made myself. The other individual track is one I’m a bit undecided about upgrading. It’s not one I listen to a whole lot, but I guess I’d probably do it.

As for the albums, one is a must-upgrade. It’s not available on CD, and I’d love to have a high-bitrate version of it. The second album is another one I’m on the fence about. There’s a few tracks on it I’d really like to upgrade, but the rest are so-so.

I thought maybe this was some quirk of the user interface where I didn’t understand which combination of buttons to press to get to upgrade individual tracks or items. But looking at the iTunes Plus FAQ I read, “You cannot choose which songs, music videos or albums to upgrade individually.” So, yes, this is intentional.

Thinking about it, I’ll probably go ahead and do the upgrade. The whole upgrade will cost $5.35 which is less than it would cost to repurchase the one ‘must have’ album upgrade. But this must be a huge decision for someone who has downloaded extensively from iTunes. Those are probably the people most likely to jump at the chance to upgrade, but they face my problem on an even larger scale.

If you have hundreds of tracks that could be upgraded but are like me and find that maybe half of the tracks are still well-liked enough to upgrade, you may have a really tough time deciding if it’s worth spending a lot of money when you really only want to upgrade a few things.

I can understand requiring purchased albums to be upgraded as an entire album. That’s a reasonable restriction. I can’t understand the justification for requiring someone to upgrade EVERYTHING whether they want better versions of everything or not. And as a customer satisfaction issue, I think Apple has taken a serious step backwards with this policy. They should toss it out and let customers upgrade the individual tracks or albums they want.

As it is, Apple has at least one customer who was eager to buy, but then discouraged by this policy. I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.

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