Bob Lefsetz’ rant about Apple’s iTunes Plus is wrong.

First, if you check you’ll see that The Lefsetz Letter is one of only thirteen sites I link to in my sidebar, so it goes without saying that I like the site a lot.

Having said that, in my opinion he’s off base in his rant today about iTunes Plus. The gist of his complaint is that you either see the iTunes Plus tracks (i.e., higher-quality and DRM-free) or the usual tracks from before today, but not both. As he states:

“But when I went to the iTunes Store homepage, and clicked on iTunes Plus, I saw “Band On The Run”. But when I clicked on that…I got a message. “Do You Want to Set Your iTunes Plus Preference?”””Why would I want to do that? I want to see BOTH versions.”

OK, stop right there. Are there a lot of artists for which you’ll spend the extra $0.30 per track for Plus, and a lot of other artists for which you will not? If so, I have to believe you are in a very small minority. I believe 99% of people will go one or the other and forget about it. Some will go to iTunes Plus and, perhaps hearing no difference in sound and not having an issue with DRM anyway, flip it back. But very few will want to swap back and forth.

Bob then complains about how the option is implemented. I’m not sure why. You can Enable or Disable the Plus feature. It’s on or off, that’s it. Seems pretty simple to me. You can change them back and forth, but as mentioned I see very few people doing that on anything more than an experimental basis. He then goes a little crazy:

“This is fucking nuts. This is bait and switch. This needs to end IMMEDIATELY!When I go to buy a car, they don’t say if I want to LOOK at the one loaded up with options I can no longer look at the base model. Unless I remember that there are multiple levels and I go into the manager’s office and sign a waiver. And then I can’t look at the EXPENSIVE version unless I go back into the office!”

This is not bait and switch. The tracks you are used to are there simply by disabling iTunes Plus. Sheesh. This is not that difficult.

As for the car analogy, it’s further proof that he should have calmed down before writing his rant. There are physical differences between the two cars that I want to see and compare side by side. No such differences exist between iTunes and Plus. Pull up an EMI album in iTunes and take a screen shot. Now switch to Plus and pull it up again. Compare the two, what do you get? Hmmm, yes, one says Plus and the other doesn’t (even the price is the same since album prices for DRM-free music did not change). For singles, you’d see a plus sign and a price of $1.29. Why the heck do you need to see those two things side by side simultaneously? You’re not comparing leather to cloth seats, basic radio to the 10-speaker deluxe stereo, and the amount of headroom with and without a sunroof!

Finally, he tops it off with this:

“And since you can only see one or the other, how many people are gonna no longer know that a cheap version is available?”

They’ll know this because they switched one of two ways:

  • At the prompt that said “You can change this preference by going to your iTunes Store Account page at any time.”
  • They switched manually (even before getting the prompt) via their store account page. Since they switched the option themselves, they know that it can be switched back.

Either way, they’ll know.

In my opinion, Apple implemented this just fine, and consistent with the message they sent. The talk from Apple early on was that presenting the same song two different ways was exactly what they wanted to avoid. One of Jobs’ big gripes about multiple pricing on singles was consumer confusion. You see the song once and know its price. That’s it. I think given that he had to concede a higher price (singles only, not albums) to get the DRM-free music, he still gave consumers the option to stay with the lower price (one Hell of a nice thing, in my opinion) or go with higher, but there would not be the situation where they would both be presented at once. I think that would be crazy.

Further, the very few who do want to go back and forth frequently (“I don’t like this artist much so I’ll save $0.30 on this one track”) can flip it manually. You’re talking a very narrow case in my opinion. In the real world, do you really intend to flip back and forth often? Even if you do, no way the vast majority of people will. I think Apple did it right, and the case Bob’s making is overstated and overblown.

Finally, Bob could certainly say that it’s none of my damn business if he wants to flip back and forth, ordering maybe 60% DRM-free and 40% the old way, and he’s right about that. However, I argue it is my business when such a “feature”, one realistically used by so few people, has to be ignored by the millions of other people who use the system. A user interface is full of compromises, and I believe Apple setting this up in the belief that most people will use one or the other was frankly a no-brainer. As for Bob, whenever he wants to save his $0.30 he can do so by switching manually.