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iTunes Store Sucks

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A more appropriate and vaguely more subtle title for this post would be ‘Dissing iTMS is by far too easy to be fun’. But I was told we should be sloganeering on the web rather than being subtle.

I have been following the iTunes (Music) Store pretty much from day one. I haven’t bought terribly many songs from them due to the DRM crap that makes real CDs look attractive in comparison but I still figured it could be handy resource for those situations where you quickly want a single song, that odd classical piece or other goodies. This plan worked out nicely in a few situations but – more often than not – it failed. In fact, currently I am stuck with ten free songs on iTMS which I got from Coke, and as they were said to expire soon, I just had a stressful time navigating iTMS looking for good things to spend them on.

First and foremost my problem may be that I am not inclined to buy whole albums on iT(M)S because I prefer to just have the CD for those, so there’s a lot of navigation to be done. And navigation means that I suffer from iT(M)S not being particularly fast or responsive. You’d think that having a dedicated store browser (iTunes) to go through the store would give you better performance than in a normal web browser but usually I find iT(M)S to be slower than browsing the web. Servers too slow? iTunes not being clever enough to pre-load and cache things? I don’t know. I don’t care either.

And then the browsing experience. Not only is iTunes’ back/forth browsing capability at the level of a 1993 web browser, but when you actually manage to find something you are interested in and even find your way back to it, you are never more than a single click away from at least one of stupid duplicate entries, wrong metadata or rip-off pricing. That’s just embarrassing in my opinion – wasn’t the iTunes (Music) Store supposed to be all about nicely presented, reasonably priced high-quality media? I just fail to see how it lives up to any of these ideas today.

Check out the Sigur Rós Svefn-G-Englar EP – four songs for a whopping €10. And you don’t even get proper Icelandic characters for that money but they just replaced the ‘ð’ by an ‘o’:

Four misspelled songs by Sigur Rós on iTMS for €10

And while this isn’t broken in a formal sense, they seem to have introduced ‘subgenres’ at some stage. Giving me the opportunity to wonder what exactly ‘Adult Contemporary’ is supposed to be and how ‘Pop/Rock’ differs from ‘Soft Rock’.

Subgenre listings in iTMS

And don’t even get me started on all the spelling mistakes. Going through the list of bands for some genre, it’s usually pretty easy to spot blatantly obvious typos which any pedantic self-respecting iTunes user would immediately eliminate from his library (in a few seconds, it’s not that fixing this were hard). But you’re probably bound to get the worst insults when looking at the classical music offerings [Just seeing an album called ‘Chill with Bach’ as the top classical search result for Bach does it for me…]. Not only is classical music notoriously poorly managed by today’s software but iT(M)S seems to completely miss the opportunity of giving us listings of ‘all recordings of the Well Tempered Clavier’ or other specific pieces. I thought that would be really cool to explore different recordings of the same work.

Instead we get really ridiculous things like the classical store having a whole section on ‘Adagios’. Yeah, right. Sure doing a smart playlist which gives you all movements of a certain speed can be an amusing thing to do. But something to help you find some music to buy? I doubt it.

Adagios section in the iTMS classical music section

Call me easily irritated, if you wish. But the bad thing is that I could go on and on and on with this. You don’t have to search for duplicate albums on iTMS or for ridiculous numbers of identical or almost identical singles and EPs which all require extra clicks to look at; you don’t need to search for wrong metadata – be it dates, typos or ‘fuck’s which are ‘sanitised’ to ‘f***’ or the scarily specific ‘f**k’ and ‘f*ck’, you don’t need to search for reviews that are just copied from AMG even though they are obviously written in a way that dates them and makes them seem wrong a few years later; and of course you don’t need to search for the idiocy of having different stores for each country and the inability to share playlists with or give presents to friends outside you country in the globalised business that is iT(M)S [and don’t want to hear any Apple apologist shifting the blame for this on the record industry - if Mr. Jobs were half the god he is said to be, he’d surely have managed to sort that out]. All these things are completely obvious – in an ‘in your face way’ – and none of them is good.

Finally I need someone to tell me how the heck a ‘Benutzerrezension’ is supposed to be related to music. That’s just idiotic technobabble as you’d expect it to come from the Windows world. Kind of confirms the suspicion that Apple’s iPod / iTunes division is run by Windows people these days.

iTMS Germany asking for Benutzerrezensionen

Bonus: Crappy localisation in iTMS - guess what English-only speakers: the translation of 'Free' might be longer than that word

Finally, let me express my frustration with iTunes’ recommendations. Not only do they reliably (and predictably) fail to point me to new and interesting things. Even worse, every single band I looked at seemed to feature a recommendation of that Gnarls Barkley single as a ‘related’ suggestion.

October 9, 2006, 0:31

Tagged as iTunes.


Comment by Dave2: User icon

It was my understanding that it’s the record studios who upload the content. So wouldn’t Apple be at the mercy of the studios when it comes to spelling everything properly and deciding which tracks are “album only”?

Also, aren’t recommendations calculated by what other customers have purchased?

October 9, 2006, 1:07

Comment by ssp: User icon

I’ve heard that as well. But it’s Apple’s store and their service, so it’s their job to make sure their partners don’t leave entering the data to some dyslexic intern or place gazillions of duplicates on the store.

As far as I know the recommendations are generated by a little monkey with a crystal ball (cute!). Which is to say that I don’t know how the recommendations are generated, but I assume that your guess is right. To be honest I don’t care how they generated them either. I just want them to be helpful and interesting. I even assume that it would be in Apple’s best business interest to make them interesting as well, as I’m a sucker for stumbling on interesting things and I’d be likely to waste money on it.

More generally speaking, I suspect that once you start doing your business somewhere in the proverbial ‘long tail’, basing recommendations on what other people did en masse will turn out to be a bad idea. As there are always bound to be popular items outdoing the neighbouring stuff in the ‘long tail’ that would be more fitting.

(Just compare this to what the people at last.fm do. While they have better data to work on than Apple have, they also spiked up their algorithms to be able to do ‘more popular’ or ‘more obscure’ recommendations.)

October 9, 2006, 10:37

Comment by Dennie: User icon

i DONT use itunes, Have NEVER used Itunes and DONT intend to in regards to buying or exploring new music. They have 4 freaking genres ALL THE OTHERS ARE SUB-GENRES. Itunes is the most ignorant, un-diverse collection of sellers & songs. Would have saved a lot of time if they just called it rock-tunes or hiphop-tunes. Any other form of music vaguely exists there. And idiots continue to buy RESTRICTED songs from their store! Do you not pay to put a track on however many machines you want!?… As i said, itunes is not a store i would buy anything from. I hope that they go offline soon to be frank. Its repetitive, ignorant and its only success is in promoting that same mainstream garbage that continues to poison peoples minds.

July 16, 2007, 1:52

Comment by Wesley: User icon

Itunes store does suck. They specialize in distributing media in the most inconvenient way possible. First off all the songs have some type of protection on them so every now and the they will be like, your not authorized to play this song anymore, please sign in on itunes. Or you cant move these songs to anouther computer. Also they removed the feature that let you redownload songs. So not only is this 10 times more agonizing then just downloading it for free, but once you buy it you dont even get to keep it.

October 19, 2009, 0:04

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