More iTunes Store complaints and reflections

More iTunes Store complaints and reflections: Right before Christmas, I posted some helpful advice to all of those folks who were receiving iPods and would be using the Apple iTunes Store for the first time. My simple advice: burn all your iTunes purchases to a CD for two reasons: 1. to have a physical backup, 2. to strip out the obnoxious DRM “protection” Apple includes on iTunes Store purchases. That post helped me discover once more, even when you’re a member of the Mac Cult (as am I) and use the iTunes Store often (as do I), if you say anything publicly about them that is perceived as negative, get ready to have your motives and sanity blasted.

So, I’m looking forward to the response to Fred Wilson’s iTunes rant.

Also, I’ve been thinking about my earlier post. A lot of the negative reaction had to do with my alert to people that Apple won’t replace tunes that are downloaded if the customer’s hardrive dies. A lot of the reaction went something ilke this: “Rex, if you purchase a CD at Tower and your dog eats it, would you expect Tower to replace the CD?” I’ve hesitated to answer these questions (the answer, of course, is that my dog would never do something like that), but during the past couple of days, I’ve been reminded how misguided it is for people to make such comparisons of a digital product with a physical product. I was reminded of this yesterday when I used a Starbucks gift card for the first time. The clerk (or, what do they call them, “barista”) suggested that I register the gift card online so that if I lost the card, I could get a new one. It also made me think about how Southwest airlines lets me check-in online and print out a boarding pass, but if my dog eats that boarding pass (which he’d never do), I can print out another one.

However, if you need a more specific and direct comparison, here’s one: Audible.com, which, believe me, has worse DRM and customer issues than Apple, still displays an awareness of what some customers don’t, that a digital product does not have to go by the same rules as a physical product. Here’s what I mean: Audible.com has a feature called “My Library.” You can go there to view all of the purchases you’ve ever made. If you want to, you can download them again. You don’t have to explain how your dog ate your hard drive.

Lastly, I will tell a story about customer service. If you’re ever in Freeport, Maine, go hang out at the customer service desk at L.L. Bean. I did once and was amazed at what people brought back in: 14-year-old duck boots (the customer even had the receipt — the upper part is “guaranteed for life”). L.L. Bean’s return policy will astound those who want Apple to make it the customer’s fault if an Apple product or Apple-authorized device fails and the customer can no longer listen to their iTunes Store purchases. I asked the L.L. Bean service desk clerk what the most unusual “return” she’d ever heard about and she told me this: “Once, a person came in and said they had purchased a pair of Rayban sunglasses. While fishing, the customer had looked down from the boat at the water and the glasses fell off. The customer thought he should receive a replacement pair because it was the glasses fault.” According to the clerk (and after watching their liberal returns policy in action for an hour or so, I had no reason to doubt her), the customer got a new pair of sunglasses. However, she explained: “We have ways of keeping customers from abusing the policy.”

One last thing: I predict Apple will soon be changing its policy so that a customer can re-download a purchased file more than once (at least for .Mac customers). Unfortunately, even then, I predict you won’t be allowed to play the tune (or video) on something other than the “five authenticated” devices. So, the “burn all purchases” advice will still hold up.

Update: For the record, I do know that all that music on you iPod is, in theory, a back-up of ones iTunes collection. Software like iPodRip can be used to recover your collection. I only know that because I’m a Mac geek and an iTunes Store junkie. I don’t blame the vast majority of the 30-million iPod owners for not knowing this, however.

Update II: Here is Apple’s official iPod tutorial, iPod 101.

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  • lcreekmo

    Why is it so bad for people to demand exceptional customer service? I don’t understand these people who want Apple to deny people access to what they already paid for. If Apple gave me, and you, and the girl down the street access to our iTunes files, they would offer it to everyone. These people are the ones who advocated more study hall instead of extra recess in school, aren’t they?

  • Marc

    If downloading the music from ITMS (in electronic media) is the same as buying a CD at Tower Records (in physical media) and should be governed by the same standards of service, then how an email doesn’t take as long to get to you as a letter sent through the post office? Comparing the two is just silly. Anyone who does it is either just kidding or expressing a fundamental misunderstanding of reality.

    I’m with you on this one Rex.

  • Mr. Flyer

    I just wanted to add a comment about Southwest Boarding Passes.
    If you’ve ever flown on southwest airlines, you know about the A PASS Boarding passes they give out (first come first serve) well, it’s really hard to get one. I use to get in line on their website to get my boarding pass until I found http://www.apassonly.com, they go out and get it for you. I can shedule my A Pass and hit the sack, wake up in the morning, print out my pass and off I go!

  • Janey

    Apassonly is automated though, won’t Southwest end up shutting them down?

  • Scott

    I’m not sure if it’s automated, all I know is it works and only costs $2.50 per A boarding pass. This is half the price of the only other website that offers this same service. I’ve had nothing but good luck with http://www.apassonly.com