According to the Apple PR machine, the iTunes Store recently became the #1 music retailer in the US. I’m not sure what their ranking is based on, but it’s certainly not on the size of their catalogue.
A Kink in the system?
For example, I fancied buying some Kinks music this morning. I took a look at amazon.co.uk, where I found a couple of well known “best of”s: The Ultimate Collection (4.5 stars, sales rank: 2,334), and You Really Got Me: the Best of the Kinks (5 stars, sales rank: 643). Both contain all their well-known singles and then some, making them essential purchases. Amazon also has The Village Green Preservation Society (5 stars, sales rank: 2,490) in stock – arguably one of Ray & co’s finest albums.
None of these albums is available on the Australian iTunes Store. Instead, a search for The Kinks reveals such well known (not!) albums as Everybody’s in Show-Biz (3 stars, sales rank: 201,108), Low Budget (not rated, sales rank: a mighty 540,642), and A Soap Opera (not rated, sales rank: 512,616), which Rolling Stone reviewed by saying, “Musically, there isn’t one really striking melody on the album”. In all, Amazon features 530 products by The Kinks (admittedly many are duplicates, but that’s still a lot). iTunes features (drum roll…) 30.
Really incredible (to quote Steve Jobs). Guess I’ll be buying my Kinks music from Amazon then.
That experience really got me going (sorry), so I tried another act: The Divine Comedy. Unquestionably, Neil Hannon’s finest output includes Casanova (5 stars, sales rank: 36,912) and Promenade (5 stars, sales rank: 103,104). Amazon also stocks the very respectable “best of” album, A Secret History (4.5 stars, sales rank: 1,159). Guess which of these masterpieces is available on iTunes? That’s right – none of them. Instead we get treated to just 2 of The Divine Comedy’s 10 albums, as well as 6 identical copies of Diva Lady, a single.
Well, whaddaya know? Amazon wins again. It lists 167 products by The Divine Comedy. iTunes lists 20 (and most of those are duplicates).
I could go on:
- Aphex Twin (amazon.co.uk: at least 9 albums; iTunes: 2 albums)
- Frank Zappa (amazon.co.uk: practically all of Zappa’s 80-odd albums; iTunes: 1 album)
- Decoder Ring (Despite being an Aussie band, amazon.co.uk carries more of their albums than the Aussie iTunes Store)
- Engineers (great band, simply not available on the Aussie iTunes Store at all)
…but I’d be here all week.
Now admittedly, most huge artists (with notable exceptions like The Kinks above) are well represented on iTunes. But venture even slightly into the realm of alternative music, and you discover that iTunes is a musical desert. What makes this all the more incredible is that Amazon is selling physical goods, whereas iTunes’ catalogue should be limited only by Apple’s hard drive space.
Maybe I have eclectic tastes – who knows? – but in the last year I’ve only once thought, “I fancy buying that album!”, gone to the iTunes Store, and actually found it.
Down Under doldrums
This dearth of decent music is partly because I’m in Australia, so I have to buy from the sparsely-stocked Australian iTunes Store. (Australians always seem to get a raw deal when it comes to choice.) However, the US and UK stores have the same measly 1 Zappa album, and the US store has the same miserable Kinks collection (anything to do with them being banned from the US in the sixties?!), though the UK store is better on the Kinks front. Anyway, why shouldn’t I be able to buy music from the US or the UK store? The Internet is supposed to be global, right? I can buy from amazon.co.uk, so why not from the UK iTunes Store? For that matter I can buy all this music on CD in an Australian record store, so why not on the Australian iTunes Store?
If this is the future of music retailing, please bring back the past!