Something is rotten in the state of iTunes

"CUPERTINO, California—May 30, 2007—Apple® today launched iTunes® Plus—DRM-free music tracks featuring high quality 256 kbps AAC encoding for audio quality virtually indistinguishable from the original recordings—for just $1.29 per song. iTunes Plus is launching with EMI’s digital catalog of outstanding recordings, including singles and albums from Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, Norah Jones, Frank Sinatra, Joss Stone, Pink Floyd, John Coltrane and more than a dozen of Paul McCartney’s classic albums available on iTunes for the first time.

iTunes will continue to offer its entire catalog, currently over five million songs, in the same versions as today—128 kbps AAC encoding with DRM—at the same price of 99 cents per song, alongside the higher quality iTunes Plus versions when available. In addition, iTunes customers can now easily upgrade their library of previously purchased EMI content to iTunes Plus tracks for just 30 cents a song and $3.00 for most albums."

Some initial reactions are starting to appear online, and they are shedding light on at least one disconcerting detail about iTunes Plus. It appears that in its current incarnation, the DRM-free tracks aren't quite "alongside" their cheaper counterparts, as the press release states. Instead, they exist behind a switch to turn iTunes Plus on or off; a switch that appears to users upgrading to the new iTunes when they search for the beefed up tracks, but that requires some snooping and password recall to undo. And once you've opted to view iTunes Plus tracks, the 99 cent ones are obscured. They're still there, but you have to know how to find them.

Some might consider this a backdoor price-hike, which is exactly the way I worried this whole deal would pan out. Not everybody is going to be able to figure out how to turn iTunes Plus off once they've agreed to flip it on.

With sufficient customer uproar, history teaches us we can expect a mea culpa from Steve Jobs and a quick fix. But for now, take a look at Lefsetz's play by play and decide for yourself if iTunes Plus is good for music retail, or just one more nail in the coffin.

Here are a few more stories:
[ars technica]

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