Why Buying Music Legally Still Kinda Sucks

For some reason, I take some small amount of pleasure in buying music legally.  It’s not just because most people my age have devalued digital media to such a point that they don’t even pause before downloading an entire album illegally – a friend of mine recently told me that she wanted to “preview a song to see if it was worth pirating the whole album”, sheesh – but it’s something more than that.  I guess it’s the same reason I liked buying albums on CD when I was a kid, I liked listening to new music that I had seemingly earned by saving the money to buy it (if that makes any sense at all).

The biggest incentive for me to buy music legally is that, nowadays, I can get it in the format I want (high quality digital MP3 downloads) and without some company’s DRM restricting what devices I can play it on.  This lets me grab new music on a whim, then put it on my iPod or phone and use it on my own terms.  Both Amazon and iTunes offer DRM-free music, and I’ve always considered us consumers to be very lucky to have these options available.

Even though many improvements have been made to give paying customers access to the content they want, there are still some pitfalls.  In fact, a recent experience using the Amazon MP3 store taught me something important: buying music legally still kinda sucks.

My story is pretty simple.  The Amazon MP3 store was running a deal on several 100-song classical music collections for under $5.00.  I jumped on the deal and bought three of them (hey, classical is great to listen to when doing homework, programming, or writing this article).  I started to notice some problems almost immediately, though.  Amazon requires that you use their MP3 dowloader application to retrieve your purchased music, and it apparently doesn’t handle large quantities of songs very well.

The first album I purchased downloaded completely, but the next two stalled and eventually failed after completing only about ten songs.  Thinking this was no big deal, I tried restarting the downloads, only to find that my download “ticket” expired after the download had been initiated. Dang.

I wrote to Amazon’s customer service explaining the situation, and they were quick to reply and re-enabled my downloads.  They also pointed me to a site where I could start downloading the album again.

There was just one problem: I couldn’t find the “Download All” link, and there were a lot of songs.

Hey, what do I have going on anyway?

So I wrote back to Amazon,

Thank you for the help with my recent Amazon MP3 downloading problem.

My concern is that I have to download each of these songs, track-by-track?  There are 200+ songs and I would much prefer not having to spend the next hour clicking, saving, and opening files.



To which I received the unfortunate reply,

I’m sorry, currently there is no feature to download all the tracks at one click on Your Media Library.

It is always important for us to hear how customers react to all aspects of shopping at Amazon.com. Strong customer feedback like yours helps us continue to improve the selection and service we provide, and we appreciate the time you took to write to us. I’ve passed your comments as a feedback to the Amazon MP3 Music team.

Thank you for your interest in Amazon MP3 Music Downloads.

I’m not complaining about Amazon’s customer service here, because they were fast and seemingly sympathetic.  But the fact that I have 200+ songs that I own but don’t have easy access to sitting in a huge list on some Amazon download page is ridiculously shortsighted of whoever is running the content management section of Amazon’s MP3 store.

I purchased these albums in June, and it’s now the end of September and I haven’t even made a dent in the list yet.  It’s not entirely because I’m lazy (well, kinda), but I’ve been patiently hoping that Amazon would simply add a Download All button to mitigate these problems in the future.

A nerd like me could just as well write a script in AutoHotkey or iMacros for Firefox to make fairly quick work of this problem, but what about the average consumer?  After all, those are the ones that truly need the most streamlined purchasing process possible to keep them away from piracy. Fiascoes like this only give them another reason to learn about BitTorrent.

Image credit: Shiv Shankar Menon Palat