A two-tier music distribution system?

Just when I was getting over being traumatized by a glitch in the iTunes user interface, Cory stirred me up again.  Good thing that the tracks I can actually play on my stereo are so wonderful.    

If you buy the latest Bob Dylan album from the iTunes Music Store, be prepared to lose four of the tracks when you burn it to CD. Four of the tracks on “Modern Times,” which is only sold as a whole album on the iTMS, are only made available as video files, and iTunes isn't designed to allow you to burn the audio portion of a video when you burn your CD.

The CD version of “Modern Times” comes as a 14-track disc that includes the audio of the four iTunes videos; also included with the CD is a DVD carrying the four videos. In other words, if you buy the packaged good, you get the audio and the videos for the final four songs, if you buy the iTunes Store version, you only get the un-burnable videos for them.

I got this information from Amazon and I suspect Cory did the same.  But I haven't actually seen the molecular product, which is confusing because there are two versions as well, so maybe the same problem of unrippable music exists there.  It doesn't change much, despite what deadlocked says. 

The iTunes experience is lauded for its consistency and fairness, and for the ease with which iTunes customers can convert their purchased songs into MP3s. But this is a dramatic failure of the consistency, clarity and ease of iTunes.

First, when you attempt to burn the album (with the video-files, which are only distinguished from the audio-files by a small, obscure grey icon) to CD, the iTunes error message says only that the files “cannot be burned to an audio CD,” which led Kim Cameron, an experienced computer user and IT executive, to conclude that the files were locked — an error stating that these were video files would have been clearer.

A really confusing user interface

You know, Cory's right. I am an experienced computer user. And I was really confused. Maybe I'm being punished for the people I've confused with some of my own early interfaces?  I sure didn't liken any part of this experience.

Second, the whole Modern Times package defeats the simplicity of the iTunes pricing model — $0.99/track for any track. While the $14 price-tag gets you 14 “tracks,” it's not possible to buy singles from the disc, nor is there any discount for buying the whole CD instead of a tack-by-track purchase. And since four of the tracks are not “music” in the sense of being burnable and rippable, you're really paying more on a per-track basis. Remember the outcry when Edgar Bronfman, Jr threatened to raise the cost of some iTunes songs and lower the cost of others? Here we have a similar kind of differential pricing sneaking in via the back-door.

Finally, here's a way in which buying iTunes tracks creates real long-term lock-in to iTunes and iPods: since iTunes videos are locked to the Apple platform, and since the only way to get any of Modern Times through iTMS is to pay for these videos, Apple and Dylan are slyly adding some lock-in to the user experience without any explicit statement about it.

Apple could make this much better by offering both the videos and the audio, or by patching iTunes to allow for burning of the audio portion of videos. But better still would be to turn off the DRM altogether. There's another way to get Modern Times and burn it to a CD: you can buy it from AllOfMP3.com, a service of disputed legality, for a fraction of Apple's pricing. Or you can download it from a P2P network. Apple's offering costs more and does less than its competitors’. How can this possibly be good business-sense?

Well, there is one way. By providing crippleware files, Apple makes it harder to switch to a competing portable player. And by giving Apple permission to cripple his music, Bob Dylan makes it harder for his fans to change to a competing service, which in turn makes it harder for Dylan to re-negotiate his own deal with Apple. Let's hope that Apple's interests and Bob Dylan's interests remain identical forever, then, for his sake.

Enough on iTunes and Modern Times

Now it appears Amazon had it wrong all along.  Apparently Disc 1 of the molecular version is missing the songs in the four videos as well.

Even in BrickAndMorterville you can't put the soundtracks of the DVD onto a CD because that would break other, more draconian, DRM.

So I guess I'm just supposed to accept the fact that I can't get all the songs (regardless of the format they came in) onto a CD – even though I have bought them.

Videos apparently aren't songs, although people are singing, so it's OK if they're trapped inside their iTunes cage.

That's life in Modern Times. 

More on iTunes and Modern Times

Cory Doctorow wrote to say: 

Kim, it appears that the four tracks you couldn't burn were video- files that probably couldn't be burned to a redbook CD, though the UI is still inexcusably confusing.

But there's still something rotten in Denmark.

If you go to buy the plastic CD at Amazon, here is the track list you see.  Check it out.  There are two disks – an Audio CD (Disc 1) and a DVD (Disc 2):

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Thunder On The Mountain  
  2. Spirit On The Water  
  3. Rollin’ and Tumblin’  
  4. When The Deal Goes Down  
  5. Someday Baby  
  6. Workingman's Blues #2  
  7. Beyond The Horizon  
  8. Nettie Moore  
  9. The Levee's Gonna Break  
  10. Ain't Talkin’  
  11. Blood In My Eyes 
  12. Love Sick  
  13. Things Have Changed  
  14. Cold Irons Bound 

Dsc: 2 

  1. Cold Irons Bound (Unreleased live version from Masked & Anonymous) 
  2. Blood In My Eyes 
  3. Things Have Changed 
  4. Love Sick (From The Grammy Awards) 

In other words, Amazon says the audio CD includes the audio tracks corresponding to the videos you get on the second disk.  Isn't that what you would expect?

The virtual product doesn't let you do the same thing.  Who cares if it's not DRM on the audio – but instead, DRM on the video?  I'm unable to strip the audio off the video to burn it to a CD.

I think iTunes (or is it Sony?) should have structured their download the way they did with the molecular set – giving you all the audio tracks, and letting you copy them to a CD.

As Cory says, the iTunes user interface is – in this one case – incredibly confusing.  But in truth, even if iTunes fixed it, I wouldn't be happy with the Dylan album experience.  When I download an album I want the equivalent of the molecular product – with all of its 14 tracks, or whatever it's supposed to have.

Meanwhile, Alex J wrote to me from England.

Alex apparently doesn't think that videos have an audio track, or that I should expect to be able to put the soundtrack on an audio CD the way Sony did in the brick and mortar world (the miracles of modern science!).  He writes:

mmmm.. I don't see any DRM problems at all. I don't see any errors on the part of iTunes anywhere. I don't see …. well, shall I tell you what I DO see?

I see a loud mouthed idiot getting hysterical over the fact that he (she?) is trying to burn 4 bonus video – VIDEO – tracks to an audio CD and is being told by iTunes that it can't be done.

Funny that.

Now, stop frothing at the mouth, go and burn tracks 1 through 10 (ie. the audio tracks, you know, the music?), and r-e-l-a-x. Oh, and don't forget to put up a retraction of your silly rant :-)

I guess “frothing” is not inaccurate, though hauling out the word “bonus” to legitimize the iTunization of the last four songs is a bit much – as is the implication that they don't contain “music”. 

Getting down to brass tacks, the trouble is that Blood In My Eyes and Things Have Changed are pretty decent songs (you know, those audio things), and I don't want them caged up inside the proprietary iTunes environment.  

Modern Times: nutso DRM or bad iTunes UI?

I wanted to hear the new Bob Dylan album last night.  So I went to iTunes (first time there), bought the album, downloaded it.

And guess what?  I couldn't burn it to CD. 

I could only listen to it inside the iTunes application. 

Apple's nutson DRM

My reaction:  this must be really crazy DRM.  Nutso actually.  But then there was worse.

It turned out that Modern Times is a – you guessed it – Sony record. 

I could just see the same crew who concocted the stinky Sony rootkit selling “Son of Rootkit” to iTunes.

Here's what iTunes had promised me on their official site:

Burning playlists with purchased songs in iTunes 4.5 and later

If a playlist contains any songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store, iTunes software restricts the number of times the same playlist may be burned to seven.

My reaction: Seven?  Ha!  Zero! Sucker…

I wouldn't have objected to stupid zero-copy DRM if I'd known about it ahead of time – I would have just “stayed away”.  But telling me I have seven copies and then telling me that “buring is disabled”?   

Poor Dylan. Surely he can't be part of this – though he's the producer on this recording.  He said during his recent Rolling Stone interview:

We all like records that are played on record players, but let's face it, those days are gon-n-n-e.

Hey, not only are records gone – it seems CDs are gone too.  There will just be bits, zeros and ones, run from Sony's world wide underwater headquarters.  No wonder everyone has had their fill of these guys. 

But back to Bob:

You do the best you can, you fight that technology in all kinds of ways…  You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them. There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like — static.

“No nothing” is right.  No CD, that's for sure.

Maybe it's all just a terrible mistake.  A programming error.  I hope so.  Otherwise, anyone for a class action suit?

UPDATE:  The “burning is disabled” message is what iTunes puts up when some of the files have video as well as audio content.  You can copy the first ten the tracks, but not the audio portions of the other four tracks – even though, according to Amazon, the plastic version of this includes one CD with all 14 songs and a DVD containing audio-video for 4 of the 14.