Avoid iTunes’ high prices, legally

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People love Apple, and a perfect example of this is the iPod. In order to use an iPod, one must have iTunes installed. If iTunes isn't installed, the iPod will not work. But when iTunes is installed, Apple's movie player, Quicktime, is also installed, as well as a number of other iServices that Apple doesn't tell you about. Some of these services, like Bonjour, iPodService, iTunesHelper, and qttask, are not essential for your computer's operation, but iTunes installs them anyway so that it can run faster. The downside is that while iTunes is running faster, the rest of your computer is running slower, because the additional programs consume CPU resources. There are a few other iPod management services, but none as popular as iTunes. The requirement that users install iTunes upon purchasing an iPod, has another entirely intended effect: when people want to buy music, they turn to iTunes because it's already there. Apple's clever deployment of the iPod makes my head spin.

People won't give up their iPods, because the iPod has become much more than just an MP3 player: it is a status symbol much like Starbucks Coffee, Fiji Water, and American Apparel clothing. Apple has a firm hold on the record companies and controls prices across the board. But there are other options.

A few months ago, Apple announced it would start selling songs in iTunes Plus Format, which is DRM-free. DRM, or digital rights management, is essentially a chastity belt for music that prevents songs from being played on devices other than the original machine it was downloaded to.

To compensate for this new freedom, Apple announced a new pricing scheme, in which some songs would increase in price to $1.29, some would stay the same $0.99, and some would drop to $0.69. Shockingly enough, all of the songs anyone would want to buy – and even some that nobody would – increased in price. I spent a few minutes trying to find some $0.69 songs, and came up with "The Hazards of Sitting Beneath Palm Trees" by Hayden, and "Outro" by Limp Bizkit (an eight minute conversation between Fred Durst and Ben Stiller). I also came across a track called "Rain – Gentle, Relaxing Rain Sounds." How much does it cost to listen to rain drops for eight minutes? Ninety-nine cents. In an effort to cash in on this rain-music phenomenon, I recorded the water coming from my shower the other night. While it sounded exactly the same, Apple executives were not interested in my music, even though I offered to sell it for only $0.69 per track.

In fact, most people don't know that there are other ways to buy music online. Services like Napster, eMusic, and Zune Marketplace (a few of which used to be free and illegal) offer subscription service, where users may download a number of songs per month. The subscription plans vary from service to service. While iTunes has the advantage in selection, with over 12 million tracks available, some of these services are noticeably cheaper, such as eMusic, where users can download tracks for an average of $0.22 with the appropriate subscription, or iMesh, which hosts over 15 million songs absolutely free, but with DRM restrictions.

While Canadians might get free healthcare, we're still being screwed by geographical copyright restrictions. Some of the most popular services, like Amazon MP3, Walmart Music (what would Walmart be if they didn't try and steal business from everyone?), and Rhapsody are unavailable to Canadians. But with the websites below, you can stop iBuying music.

Services mentioned

Napster: Napster offers access to over 2.5 million songs for $10 per month, or $15 if you want to keep them on your portable music player.

eMusic: Subscription based, with a preset number of downloads per month based on account type. In addition to per-month downloads, users may buy booster packs for more downloads. The per-track price works out to less than $0.25, and about two million songs are available.

Zune Marketplace: This Microsoft service offers about five million songs. Tracks purchased are compatible only with the Zune portable music player, unless otherwise specified. Zune offers per-track, and subscription based downloading.

iMesh: This service allows users to trade some music online for free. However, users must pay for any copyrighted material. Users can pay on a per-month subscription or per-song basis. iMesh hosts about four million songs for purchase, and 15 million free songs. Users receive a 14-day free trial, with access to all of the copyrighted material (unfortunately, those copyrighted songs disappear at the end of the trial).

7Digital: A pay-for-song service with about 3.5 million tracks. DRM protected tracks are $0.79, while unprotected MP3s are up to $1.29.