This is a story about Greg Koch
You don’t know him? Nor did I, until a hot evening at the end of July this year, when I was driving my car from the office back home. Thanks to German public broadcast I listened to one of the rare programmes not only playing music, but also introducing music in an informative and critical manner. This programme, called “Blues Live”, offered its audience a live recording of a concert by the versatile, US-American musician and guitar player Greg Koch. Sounds very good, what a intensive feeling, what a weeping guitar, what a sweeping drive. Maybe it’s music for the 50-something, persons who know from their youth the Almond Brothers, Johnny Winter and, last but not least, Jimi Hendrix.

This is a story about iTunes too
The iTunes service came to Germany on 15 June 2004. The hype about its excellent service and new horizons for legal music downloading was amazing (see Dufft 2004). I’m at an age where I have lost most of my hair and I feel no longer so enthusiastic about every new technology coming to the market. I have seen too many flops. But I’m still enquiring and curious. So I became member of iTunes in Germany. In fact I’ve paid money to Apple for music I’m interested in, burnt CDs, shared the music with colleagues and had some good and some bad experiences.

Looking for Greg Koch at iTunes and other online music stores
After listening to Greg Koch on the car radio I wanted to hear more of his music. So I started my iTunes software, linked to the German iTunes store, and searched for “Koch” – and got 155 tunes. But looking somewhat closer at this list, there was no “Greg”, but “Fred” (children’s songs), “Jil” (easy listening), “Lisa” (jazzy pop), and “Thomas” (German Schlager), and above all “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (The revenge of hell boils in my heart) an aria from Mozart’s opera “Zauberflöte”. Nice to hear, but at that time in July I wasn’t in the mood for all this stuff.

But I’ve learned not to give up immediately. So I turned my mouse from the German to the American iTunes store, searched again for “Greg”, and I really found two of his most recent albums “The Grip” and “Radio Free Gristle”. Really enjoyable music, I thought, after hearing some of the 30 sec samples. Let’s buy some of them. The answer was as follows:



(Besides the strange German the meaning of this message in English could be: “Invalid store. You are registered with an account, which is not valid for use of the US store. With this account you can only buy in the music store for German music.”)

Only German music? Is it forbidden to buy in the USA? Hey, I thought we are living in the 21st century, in the era of globalisation and not in the 18th century with sectionalism, we call it “Kleinstaaterei”.

To heck with Apple, there are competitors. Let’s try there. I must admit, that at that moment, I didn’t know where to go. (“It’s just a mouse-click away”, I heard a little demon singing). What are the names and the addresses of those online competitors? Hm. Google didn’t help me, but I remembered a famous music portal from former times: mp3.com. Yes they are still alive, provided a little informative textual entry on Greg Koch, a list of his key albums, and their availability for download. That was what I was looking for. Mp3.com showed me, that Greg’s tunes are available at iTunes USA, and from RealPlayer (downloads) and RealPlayerRhapsody (streaming). Why not go to RealPlayer? Same sectionalism: “Currently, we are only able to offer RealRhapsody to customers within the US”.

There is a life outside the Internet
It was getting Autum. The leaves were falling and I still missed Greg Koch. Forget downloading and try to get a tangible CD, I thought. At German Amazon they offered four albums. But every time I want to order an item at Amazon, I don’t know my password. So I remembered, there is a life outside the Internet. A friend of mine told me that in his town, there is a really good CD store, with a huge rock, blues, and jazz department. I phoned them, and the answer was disappointing. No Greg Koch, but they can order it for me. Next day I had some business in my home town. We had a really good media ware house with an excellent CD department and competent salesmen. But they went bankrupt some years ago. So I was not very optimistic when I entered the branch of one of the big electronic media chains in Germany. I headed directly for the information desk. What a surprise! The salesman looked in his computer and told me, there must be two albums from Greg Koch. OK, he found one of them, and I bought it. Good end to a long story, isn’t it?

Please forgive me music industry, I also tiptoed to the dark side of the Internet
Some days ago we had an INDICARE meeting. The younger colleagues argued, that you can not discuss DRM and copyright issues in the age of digital media if you have never used a P2P network. I had to confess, that I never had done this precarious thing. I have to try it. But how to do this? And what happens, if I install such illegal (?) software on my office computer? Would I risk losing my job or going to jail? So one morning I visited a good friend of mine, took an espresso and a croissant for breakfast and searched one of the P2P networks for Greg Koch. Yes we found “Heute ein König” by Hans-Uwe Koch, we got Tim Koch, and some titles, which sound similar to tunes from Greg Koch’s albums. But after 45 Minutes we gave up.

The whole story only of anecdotal relevance?
This is a very personal story. I have not done a systematic and scientific exploration on the up-to-dateness and comprehensiveness of iTunes offers. Such a systematic test has been undertaken by the German consumer journal “Test”. They support my results: From a pool of 100 current music titles, they only found 47 at iTunes (Test 2004).

Bottom line
Although usage of iTunes isn’t as self evident as some tell us, all in all, iTunes give you the feeling, that you can become familiar with it. But user friendliness is only an essential not a sufficient condition. There are two typical benefits of legal online music stores in comparison to street stores: The offerings could be more up-to-date, because some stages of the production process are no more necessary (like pressing the CD, doing printing work). The offerings could be more complete and more comprehensive, because there are no real space limits.

This opinion article presented a single story in which these expectations were frustrated. Is this the case, user friendliness alone will not bring this service to a success. Consumers have a lot of other choices. They can use P2P-networks - this is not in every case a successful and convenient way -, they can use CD stores on the Internet, mail order or street stores. The new online distribution channels will only win with better service and content.

p.s. At the end of September iTunes Germany added to its assortment two albums by Greg Koch. Yes, now you can buy “The Grip” (not the album for €9,99 but the 17 tunes each for €0,99) and “Radio Free Gristle” (the whole album for €9,99 and the 27 tunes each for €0,99 - some last only a few seconds). But it’s too late. I have made my choice. And for those who interested in Greg’s music: He offers on his web site some free goodies like Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House”.

Sources

About the author: Ulrich Riehm is sociologist, who has worked on and led Technology Assessment projects in the field of IST for 25 years at ITAS. Recently he led a TA project on E-Commerce and its political, economical, and social implications on behalf of the Deutsche Bundestag (German Parliament). Currently he is involved in the EU foresight project FISTERA and the eContent project INDICARE.

Status: first posted 28/10/04; included in INDICARE Monitor Vol. 1, No 5, 29 October 2004; licensed under Creative Commons
URL: http://www.indicare.org/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=53