Although I posted about Apple's iTunes Music Store the other week, it was only yesterday that I actually got round to downloading the updated versions of iTunes and QuickTime which enable full access to the store. After all, as I don't have a US address on my Visa account and therefore couldn't buy tracks anyway there was no great hurry. Even so, once I'd fired up iTunes 4 I couldn't resist clicking on the little green Music Store icon, just to see what the store looked like and how well integrated it was into iTunes, which I've found to be a very nice way to rip CDs to my hard disk so I can use my iMac as a jukebox.
Having browsed the iTunes Music Store for a while and played a few free 30 second previews – which is all non-US users can do for the time being – I'm torn between being very excited and very, very worried. Excited, because Apple have done a very good job of making it easy to navigate the site and (insofar as I can tell without actually being able to make a purchase) buy tracks or entire albums. Worried, because even though the catalogue isn't as extensive as I'd like – there are a lot of Prince albums missing, for example – I can see my credit card balance suffering considerable stress if I ever permit myself to make purchases from the forthcoming European version of the site.
Browsing the iTunes Music Store reminds me a lot of the way I feel when I browse Fictionwise looking for e-books. I mean that in a good way, for the most part: I really like being able to buy individual short stories or novellas as well as entire collections of shorter work. However, there's a downside to Fictionwise, and it's one which applies in spades to Apple's newest venture.
A lot of the ebooks which I'd like to buy – particularly newer material at novel length – is only available in various "secure" formats which serve to make it harder for me to retain access to the books I've bought when I change computers, and which I therefore boycott on principle.
Which is, of course, an even bigger drawback when it comes to the digital rights management system Apple is using for the Music Store. At Fictionwise there's still a reasonable amount of material available in non-protected formats for me to buy and retain as long as I have a Palm which can read .pdb files or a desktop system which can read ASCII or PDF files. As I understand it, at the Apple Music Store the choice is between Apple's AAC format, which incorporates various copy protection measures, and nothing. It'd work out nicely just as long as I keep using the iMac I have now, but what happens if I buy a different Mac, or if I decide to switch to Linux, or – heaven forfend – return to the warm, welcoming embrace of Uncle Bill? Even if there's a Windows version of Apple's AAC format, will I be able to move my library of legally purchased music to my next computer? I fear not.
Which means that when the launch of iTunes Music Store (European Branch) comes round, I think I'm going to have to pass.