May 4, 2010

Guns, Razors, Knives, MP3s

Deftones' latest album Diamond Eyes is out today, and I am again faced with the Media Consumer's Conundrum--where do I buy it and what format? For the purposes of this blog, I am considering "consume" and "purchase" to be synonymous. I'm not going to argue here about free downloading because I think I've made it clear that I am, for the most part, against it. That being said, I did download the leaked version of Diamond Eyes weeks ago. I've only downloaded leaked albums a few times in the past (Dillinger Escape Plan's Irony is a Dead Scene, Deftones' self-titled, and tracks that eventually became System of a Down's Steal This Album) because I was curious, impatient, and knew full well that I was going to pay for the album when the true release date arrived. In each case I did, and the same goes for Diamond Eyes.

I believe we all agree that choice is good and gives power to the consumer. It also, as I experienced with Dillinger Escape Plan's Option Paralysis, can confuse the fuck out of us. Here's a quick follow up on that saga... I ended up purchasing a limited edition version of the album at FYE (the physical store), which came with different artwork, a T-shirt and a bonus track. I think I paid $20 plus tax. The bonus track ended up just being an unnecessary remix of "Gold Teeth on a Bum" and the shirt was too big for me (I ended up trading it with a bandmate for an old Every Time I Die shirt that didn't fit him). The special packaging done by former DEP singer Dimitri Minakakis was cool, but in reality I haven't looked at it since I first opened it. There was certainly the instant gratification of popping the CD in my car and blasting it on the first day it came out, but I'm not positive it was all worth it. That's not to take away from the quality of the album, but I think it has pushed me to clamp down on my music spending habits.

Now that we're in May, and there two more new albums by favorite bands of mine--Deftones and Far--I'd like to experiment a little with my routine. Today I downloaded the mp3 version of Diamond Eyes, but it was certainly not without lots of analysis.

  • Standard CD [explicit] - $9.99
  • Standard CD [clean] - $18.98
  • Vinyl (unknown track listing) - $21.83
  • Import CD (unknown track listing) - $44.98
  • Standard Digital [explicit] - $7.99
  • Standard Digital [clean] - $7.99
  • Deluxe Digital [explicit] (two bonus tracks) - $9.99
  • Individual tracks Digital (13 available) - $0.99
  • Standard Digital [explicit] - $9.99
  • Standard Digital [clean] - $9.99
  • Deluxe Digital [explicit] (three bonus tracks) - $11.99
  • Individual tracks Digital (14 available) - $1.29
Hot Topic/Shockhound
  • Standard CD [explicit] - $9.99
  • Standard Digital [explicit] - $6.99
  • Standard Digital [clean] - $6.99
  • Deluxe Digital [explicit] (two bonus tracks) - $13.99
  • Individual tracks Digital (13 available) - $1.29
Newbury Comics
  • Standard CD (autographed booklet) - $16.99 (sold out)
  • Standard CD - $16.99
FYE (normal price/member price)
  • Standard CD [explicit] - $12.99/$11.69
  • Standard CD [clean] - $14.99/$13.49
  • Standard Vinyl - $22.99/$20.69
There's more to this than just having lots of options. Today is the release date, but when pre-orders were originally taken, only the standard version of the album was available. Quite a few hardcore fans are pissed off because they immediately pre-ordered the album, only to find that extras such as bonus tracks and autographs would later be included. I sympathize with them. There is also the temptation to get Deluxe over Standard for the bonus tracks, one of which  iTunes has exclusively--a cover of Drive Like Jehu's "Caress." There is really nothing super crazy here to throw us off like alternate artwork, or different colored vinyl, free mp3 download cards, or T-shirt bundles, so the major decisions will be made based on format and price.

I've mentioned before that I was an eMusic member for a long time, so digital downloading isn't such an alternate universe for me, but I've employed it for brand new releases. The arguments over bit rate quality is always in the back of my head, but in reality, I don't notice the difference between a CD or an mp3 encoded at 192kbps or 256kbps. I've also never needed to go back to an archived CD to replace a lost mp3, or to re-encode one at a higher bit rate, so that sort of obliterates the physical backup argument. Taking this into consideration and that I rarely go back to look at album artwork that I have saved in a shoebox, I decided to give the digital format a shot this time.

With all bit rates being equal* and DRM-free, I did quick price comparisons and the most cost effective thing would be to download the 11 album tracks from Shockhound, 2 bonus tracks from Amazon, and the final bonus track from iTunes for a grand total of $10.79. Shockhound charges sales tax in NJ, but it still ended up $.50 cheaper than Amazon. I did notice that the Shockhound downloads did not have the associated album artwork, which in this case would just be a thumbnail of the album cover. They also don't appear to have the track order embedded in their name or properties. Amazon downloads don't have either of those problems, so in the future, I may pay them the extra two quarters for their assistance.

I haven't yet picked up the iTunes exclusive track because I'm always bothered by the fact that it's in a format other than mp3. I've downloaded a couple albums and tracks from iTunes in the past, and have just never gone through the hassle of burning, then ripping the tunes to listen to on my non-iPod. I may wait for it to eventually be non-exclusive and find it on Amazon in the future. Speaking of that, I see the Option Paralysis mp3 album download is now only $5 there. Amazing.

So what have we learned today? That I'm willing to spend less to gamble on the digital format with no frills, but I'm willing to spend more for what I'm being told is "bonus" music. I've seen figures that CDs are still the winning media format, so I think I'm in the minority. Am I making out on this deal? Am I being taken advantage of? Is the artist reaping any benefit? Will the rhetorical questions ever end?

* I believe all three albums were available as 256kbps, but I didn't necessarily know that going into it. None of these sites seem to explicitly advertise the bit rate for tracks. They should really list this information in a column next to the track time. Shockhound promises "192kbps minimum" but I gambled and won. I am also not an iTunes expert, but I am assuming that the $1.29 price tag suggests a 256kbps rate.


Harry Badface said...

Are you following amazonmp3 on twitter? Good deals pop up all the time. I got Johnny Cash's last almub for 4 bucks.

Ro-Beast Rollie said...

I am not following them, but I think it's better that way. I have more albums than I have time to listen to them.

I do occasionally check out their monthly $5 mp3 albums though. I'm actually considering starting up a separate blog to use the Amazon Associates program I signed up for years ago and never used once. My plan is to promote deals on Amazon in haiku form. Buy-ku. Don't steal it!