Partial Albums on iTunes
March 16, 2004 1:42 PM   Subscribe

Why does the iTunes music store have partial albums that are missing only one track? That makes it outrageously expensive to buy a CD with more than 9 tracks and seems a pretty dumb business move on their part. [Specifically, I tried to buy "Sign O'The Times" after the Prince thread, and it's missing a track.]
posted by adrober to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
Why? Because the record company that owns the music decided to do it that way.
Why? Who knows. Perhaps they don't really want this online music experiment to succeed too well... and make no mistake, it is still a big experiment.

There's little doubt that Apple would prefer to sell the highest-quality product it can (meaning, the entire album), but they have to compromise with the people who actually own the rights.
posted by xil at 1:55 PM on March 16, 2004

iTunes albums fall into three categories:

1. Complete album for $9.99 or less (for instance, I think "Hot Buttered Soul" is only $3.98 because it only has four songs).

2. Complete album for (# tracks * $0.99)

3. Partial albums

While I can understand #2, though I disagree with it, I have to agree with xil that the only reason for #3 is to set it up for failure. For instance, I was really hyped to by Kanye West's College Dropout this weekend, but it's only about half there. Very frustrating. Also, there are a lot of conspicuous absences -- for instance, they have a lot of Iggy Pop, but not Lust for Life.
posted by blueshammer at 2:04 PM on March 16, 2004

The impression that I'm getting from my web trawling is that in most cases, it's a rights issue--the various rights-holders must sign off on digital distribution before iTunes can sell it. In the case of "Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" on Sign O' the Times, it's the only live track on the album, and was recorded with The Revolution, with whom Prince was no longer associated when the album came out. So a rights issue seems likely.
posted by vraxoin at 2:21 PM on March 16, 2004

vraxion is exactly right. Most of the omissions of tracks that you'll see are music that was recorded pre-mp3 and the labels simply do not have the rights to sell mp3 versions of the tracks.

The same happened when DVD came along. Many companies that had licensed films for release on video or laserdisc were now screwed because when they signed the agreement, dvd was no built into it. If the people who own the rights do not wish to release them for mp3/dvd means, that's their right. And that's a good thing. The alternative is that the label, once they release a record once, own the right to keep it in print forever and in whatever format they wish. (Though many recent contracts and probably all future ones will include a clause stating rights or for all "existing and future media".)

As an example, there were some albums on emusic that were missing certain tracks. One in particular I can think of is Ralph's World's first CD which was missing a track that was a cover from (if I recall correctly) Winnie the Pooh. Ralph's label (SPINArt) simply did not own mp3 or online rights to the material though they were allowed to distribute the song on CD and vinyl.
posted by dobbs at 2:30 PM on March 16, 2004

Most helpful, thanks all! I didn't even axe the question, but I've wondered it.
posted by freebird at 3:21 PM on March 16, 2004

Often the rights issues are connected with song publishing rights.

Whereas usually an album's recording has one copyright owner (the record label), the songs embodied in that recording are often owned by a completely different company (the music publisher).

When songs are co-written by several writers, they will in turn be represented by further song publishing companies, complicating things further. In certain circumstances writers or song publishers can object to certain uses of their materials.
posted by skylar at 4:02 PM on March 16, 2004

Why? Because the record company that owns the music decided to do it that way.

A lot of the time, at least w/ indies, this is not the reason. My SO works for a label and she's in charge of dealing w/ iTMS (as well as the other legal svcs). The main problems seem to be:
  • iTMS is really crappily built.
  • iTunes Producer (the app you use to upload music) is also crappy. I don't know which piece is to blame, but say there's a problem w/ an album in iTMS (missing track, spelling error). There is no way for the record label to fix it. They can't even re-upload the whole album. Also, a lot of times Producer just craps out when you upload an album, so there's an entry in iTMS's queue, but you can't fix it and it doesn't get to the store because it's broken. Which brings me to my next point...)
  • The (at least indie) label liasons at iTMS are really slow. When the label uploads the tunes, they go into a queue for Apple people to vet and make previews and stuff. Several times, my SO has had the single from her albums drop off iTMS inexplicably, during critical times like when its in a TV commercial or in rotation. Oddly, I don't think she's ever had a track disappear that wasn't the most popular on the album. Then it takes weeks to get the iTMS people to fix it.
Long story short, don't be so quick to blame the label, which would generally love to take your $.60. Apple is not always as saintly as MeFi would like to believe. FWIW, my SO says that she doesn't have nearly as many problems w/ any of the other svcs, and if Apple didn't control such a big chunk of the market, she would just forget about them.

(Also, blueshammer: as far as the current Producer indies get is concerned, you just put in whatever tracks (The ripper won't title them for you w/ Gracenote/CDDB which is annoying) and pick $3.99/$5.99/$7.99/$9.99/$11.99 for the 'playlist'. Everything is $.99 automagically on its own. Which means if there are $.99/track*30 tracks w/ no $11.99 option, some people are getting a different deal, contrary to what Steve said.)
posted by jeb at 4:40 PM on March 16, 2004

jeb: Check out Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head. It's $16.99; there are only 11 songs, 10 of which you can buy for $0.99 and the last (actually, 9th) of which is album-only. As some have said, maybe it's a rights issue. Another example is Over the Rhine's Film for Radio; it's $13.99 for 11 songs, one of which is album-only.
posted by blueshammer at 5:21 PM on March 16, 2004

$16.99?!? Shouldn't I get a plastic case and a keepsake 5" disc of aluminized mylar for that much money? That's crappy of them. Apple is botching its handling of indies to the extent that it is affecting the amount of music that gets on there.
posted by jeb at 5:49 PM on March 16, 2004

One example - you won't find any of SRV's covers of Jimi Hendrix songs on ITMS. I suspect its due to licensing issues with the Hendrix estate.
posted by mrbill at 10:11 PM on March 17, 2004

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