The Internet has definitely revolutionized our lives. From shopping to communicating to the way we listen to music - all these aspects of our lives have changed dramatically due to the Internet. It has been said that music is the universal language. It is probably more so now, as music can easily be shared all over the world, transcending traditional geographic barriers.
Statistics show that digital music has become the regular fare of majority of listeners the world over. That is why digital music stores have been popping up left and right, trying to take advantage of this boom. Yet ask anyone who is a regular digital music listener - what are the main advantages of downloading music off the Internet? Chances are you’ll get a response similar to this: it’s free and it’s convenient.
Who can forget the days when you can get all the music you want on Napster? All you needed was an Internet connection and you were all set to go. That is not to say that there are no more sites and services offering similar services for free today. With the outcry that the music industry has raised (and is raising), legislation has been put into effect with the aim of curbing illegal downloading. Thus the birth of online music stores.
Perhaps the most popular online music store today is the one created and maintained by Apple - the creators of the iPod. Apple iTunes is a digital media player application released in 2001. You can use iTunes to play and manage all your digital files. Music and video are both supported by iTunes. You can also use iTunes to manage files on your iPod. More so, iTunes has its own online music store, from which you can download music and videos for a fee. With the big success of podcasting - broadcasting over the Internet - iTunes also features a podcast site where you can get podcasts both for free and for a fee.
Apple has always prided itself in keeping itself pure. That is, providing services to its users without the irritating ads that the Internet is widely known for. From the start, Apple has been known as the alternative to the big companies who make money off ads online. Yet in April of this year, a rumor that Apple was going to sell ads through iTunes emerged. With the release of iTunes version 188.8.131.52, the rumor became truth. Now listeners and viewers are exposed to certain ads on iTunes.
How does it work? For now, the ads are limited to the lower part of the window whenever you listen to a song on iTunes. This feature is incorporated into the new MiniStore. Anytime you click on any song on your playlist and listen to it, you will see visual ads on the MiniStore window. These ads are basically songs and albums related to the song you are currently listening to. In addition to this, you will see another section with the heading “Listeners Also Bought.” This part shows you albums by different artists which are being patronized by other listeners who liked the same song you are currently listening to. For example, if you click on Eric Clapton’s Lonely Stranger. What you will see in the MiniStore window would be something like this: Unplugged by Eric Clapton (this is the album from which the song comes from); More from Eric Clapton (other albums released by Eric Clapton, as well as some of his popular songs); and a list of other songs and albums that other listeners bought.
If you think about it, it’s not so bad as it initially seemed. The ads are not really ads in the strictest sense of the word. You see products that may actually enhance your listening experience. You are listening to Clapton, you will probably appreciate - or at the worst, not mind - seeing related material to what you are currently listening to. They are not irritating ads selling you stuff and services that you are most probably not interested in. Furthermore, you have the option of minimizing the MiniStore window. If you do this, then you won’t be bothered by the ads. If the ads are such a hassle for you then all you need to do is turn the MiniStore off.
However, many people think that this “small” step that includes embedded ads on iTunes is a precursor of ominous things to come. The fact is that iTunes originally offered an ad-free listening experience and this attracted many users to leave their old client behind and switch to Apple iTunes. Now that ads are finding their way into iTunes proves to be foreboding to these very listeners. Though the ads seem to be limited to iTunes itself for now, people can’t help but wonder how much longer till the ads find their way to their portable devices as well. Apple has to consider that fact that majority of iPod users choose to use this product in order to “unplug” from the world of radio which is rife with advertisements. All they want is an uninterrupted supply of music (or video or talk, as technology evolves). With the introduction of ads, this luxury can be taken away from them.
With the widely varied formats that iTunes support, there is more opportunity for ads. Videos and podcasts are probably as popular as MP3s nowadays. In fact, Apple has introduced some ads in their podcasts as well. An example would be ESPN Radio. With this step towards providing ads, they will probably come up with more ad offerings. At present, videos and TV series episodes are still ad-free. Several TV networks are now coming up with free versions of some TV shows they are selling on iTunes. Of course there is a catch - ads that cannot be skipped. If this trend continues to go the way it is going, it is only probably a matter of time till iTunes will be completely full of ads instead of being completely ad-free.
For users, the bottom line is simple. They have the choice between convenience and free content. Convenience and portability would probably come with a price soon. Some people would be willing to pay for that, it is sure. Then again, some would just want free content whenever and wherever they could get it.