Short Nerd Chief

Posts Tagged ‘iTunes’

Circumvent laziness with Smart Playlists

Posted by Fred on February 13, 2008

For someone who claims to be a geek, I am woefully lazy when it comes to iTunes.  This is why when I go to the gym, I’m as likely to hear Copland’s Buckaroo Holiday as I am the Dead Kennedys’ Holiday in Cambodia.  Gina Trapani helps you avoid the same fate with Lifehacker’s Top 10 iTunes Smart Playlists.  Of the list, the one I’m most likely to try (if I weren’t so lazy) is the No Skippies list, which eliminates songs you start to play, then skip (such as classical music or Nina Simone when on the elliptical trainer):

 

noskippies

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Apple Introduces MPAA-crippled iTunes Movie Rentals

Posted by Fred on January 15, 2008

As expected, Apple’s going to offer movie rentals via iTunes:

As anticipated, Steve Jobs used the early part of today’s Macworld 2008 keynote to introduce movie rentals for iTunes. Rentals will be available to iTunes users, beginning today as an update to the app, priced at $2.99 for older films and $3.99 for new releases, from a library that is set to include some 1,000 films by next month. Titles will become available 30 days after their DVD release.Users will have 30 [days] from purchase to watch films, and 24 hours after they first begin to watch them. Titles can be watched on Macs, iPods, and iPhones.

The idea of downloadable rentals is a good one. The idea of streaming downloads to a set-top box is also a good one, as most people neither have their PCs hooked up to their HDTV nor prefer to watch a movie on a 19 inch LCD instead of a 50 inch one.  But, as usual, the movie industry has crippled a good idea and turned it into a bad one.  I don’t want to wait 30 days to watch a new release; I want to get it on Tuesday. I don’t want to have to watch a movie within 24 hours either – sometimes I start a movie but can’t finish it for a day or two. Other times I want to watch something a second time two days later. With Netflix or Blockbuster I can do both, but with iTunes I can do neither.  The pricing isn’t that great either.  Download three movies in a month and you’ll pay $11.97 for standard definition or $14.97 for hi def on that new Apple TV.  For that price, you could sign up for the 2 DVDs at a time Netflix plan and get unlimited PC streaming to boot.  About the only benefit to the Apple offering is the ability to play movies on an iPod, but I’d really rather use the DVD drive on my laptop instead of the 2 inch screen on my nano if I’m on the go.

Maybe the reality will be better than the early reports suggest, but for now Apple’s movie rentals don’t seem much better than their movie sales.

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Apple to Offer Movie Rentals? About Time.

Posted by Fred on December 28, 2007

Among the many things I missed yesterday while stuck on an Amtrak train to nowhere: Apple is apparently set to offer movie rentals via iTMS, starting with Fox:

In an effort to jump-start the market for online movies, News Corp.’s Twentieth Century Fox and Apple Inc. are preparing to announce a deal in which Fox movies would be available for rent digitally through Apple’s iTunes Store, according to people familiar with the matter.Apple has for months been trying to persuade the Hollywood studios to agree to a digital rental model, in which consumers would be able to download movies through iTunes that could be played for a limited time. Until now, no studio has agreed to such a deal with Apple, and some companies have continued to resist Apple’s pitch.

In a related move, Fox also plans to release DVDs that use Apple’s digital rights management system, a move that would allow consumers to make legal copies of the disc that could be played on an iPod or other device, such as a computer. The moves were reported by the Web site of the Financial Times.

I for one hate, hate, hate the idea of music rentals, but movies are a different matter.  How many movies does one really need to own on DVD?  Schlepping down to the Blockbuster is a pain, and both Blockbuster’s online offering and Netflix are too expensive, expecially if your movie viewing is intermittent, like mine.  Downloadable rentals seem to address all of these issues – you pay only when you rent (no monthly fee), you don’t need to drive to the store and deal with the surly teenagers behind the counter, everything is always in stock, and there’s nothing to return.  Win-win-win.

The biggest downside to the arrangement is getting the movie from iTunes to the TV.  I have little interest in watching a movie on either my PC or the tiny screen on my nano.  Perhaps this service will jump-start Apple TV, which has always been an idea without a market.  Apple will need to make the box cheaper and more Windows-friendly first.  What a movie rental service would be great for, of course, is travel.  Download a big stack of movies to a laptop and you’re set until the battery dies.

The bigger news may well turn out to be not the service itself but that Apple is finally licensing FairPlay to a third party, with Fox to release FairPlay-encoded DVDs of the same movies available for download.  It’s about time.  Scrapping the FairPlay DRM entirely would be better, but maintaining it as a wall around the iPod ecosystem garden never made much sense.  Now if Apple will only license it to Sonos, Netgear, Linksys and Belkin, we’ll have something.  Better yet, let me stream from iTunes to my existing set-top box and skip yet another piece of plastic in the entertainment center, or even download directly from Cupertino’s servers to my DVR.  So long as the movie is playable only on a computer, iPod or an Apple TV box, the market will be limited.

Just don’t turn iTunes into a music subscription service, and all will be good.

[via Apple 2.0]

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Amazon vs iTunes – which is better for singles/album only?

Posted by Fred on December 3, 2007

Omar likes Amazon’s MP3 store over the iTMS because he can buy individual Daft Punk songs.  In my limited testing, I think there’s a lot to like about the Amazon offering.  It certainly seems cheaper than iTunes Plus for DRM-free music.  It also seems to have more DRM-free selection.

I also agree that searching for a song on iTunes only to be told it’s Album Only is incredibly annoying.  I’m not sure, however, that Amazon is much better.  For example, search for Nina Simone’s Sinnerman (my usual test of Album Only-ness) on Amazon, and you’ll strike out just like on iTunes :

amazon_simone.png

Truth be told, it’s probably more the labels’ fault than it is Apple’s.  One advantage Amazon does have is variable pricing.  Normally, this operates just as a way to screw the customer, but in this case, if Amazon charges more for an otherwise album only track, you’ll still come out ahead if you don’t want the whole album.  Overall, the Amazon store is great for the music listener if it encourages labels to pick MP3 over AAC or WMA.  Even better is Pepsi’s promotion with Amazon, which will distribute up to a billion DRM-free MP3s and Wal-Mart’s apparent ultimatum that labels give it music in MP3 format only (no more DRM-choked WMA files).

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The ultimate in variable pricing – name your own price for In Rainbows

Posted by Fred on October 1, 2007

radiohead_uptoyou.png

How much is Radiohead’s new album worth? Pick a number between $0 and $82. Lots of people are going to write lots of words about how “this changes everything.” It doesn’t, of course, but it is a nice pricing model for bands that are big names not signed to record contracts. It also keeps Radiohead’s name out there given that they are not now, nor will they ever be, on iTunes, thanks to their refusal to sell downloads of individual songs (Amazon, on the other hand, has no problem selling the Radiohead albums as downloads for $8.99).

So what does it mean? I’m not ready to call it the first step to Mike Masnick’s music utopia where “Radiohead isn’t really selling the ‘music.'” Radiohead know full well that most people aren’t going to pick a price of $0. The calculus that goes into this sort of the system is the same as when Cory Doctorow offers free downloads of his books while also selling them at Barnes & Noble – many people will buy the book/album, and those who pay nothing will presumably provide nice PR to get more people to buy the paid product. This calculus works even without the $82 diskbox. Radiohead is selling the music; if they weren’t, the only thing they’d be charging for would be the box set.

It’s also not at all clear how the model scales beyond Radiohead. Most musicians are signed to record labels, who aren’t going to adopt this model, even if this experiment is a success (in fact, the only lesson the majors are likely to draw is “people will pay 80 bucks for a deluxe edition!”). Further, while Radiohead can get the buzz necessary to drive people to a website, how are unsigned or unknown acts supposed to do the same? One can envision a site that collects such acts in a central repository, but it’s still a stretch.

Finally, the Radiohead experiment, in and of itself, is unlikely to prove anything. If blog comments are any indication, some people will buy the download as a political statement, a way to stick it to the hated RIAA. It’ll be the second or third or fourth such effort, after the novelty has worn off and purchases are not part of an anti-cartel manifesto that one can draw reasonable conclusions.

Update: Jason Kottke points out that Radiohead is not the first to try this (notable earlier efforts include Magnatune and Jane Siberry).  That you and I have heard about Radiohead’s efforts and not the others proves the point – this model works best for those artists who are already established, especially if they have a certain amount of geek cred, as does Radiohead.

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