Napster ups bitrates. Tough luck if you’ve already paid

I hate to say I told you so…

One of the things I don’t trust about digital downloads is the issue of quality: specifically, if you buy a not-great-quality 128Kbps file today because that’s all that’s available, what’s to stop the online shop from upping the bitrate a few months later to something more sensible – but charging full price if you want to upgrade?

So much for my cynicism. Microsoft Monitor reports that Napster US is upping the bitrate of its tracks from 128Kbps to 192Kbps. Guess what?

Napster customers with subscription accounts get the benefit of better quality with no loss. But people purchasing tracks, whether from Napster, iTunes or any other service, only have what they paid for. If the buying customer wants the higher-fidelity version, he or she has to pay up again.

9 thoughts on “Napster ups bitrates. Tough luck if you’ve already paid

  1. Stephen says:

    Some spurious iTunes bashing there: Apple have not even announced higher bitrate tracks yet, so how can the writer know whether Apple will charge full price for bitrate upgrades? (Not that I think they won’t, but let’s keep speculation properly labeled, shall we?)

  2. Gary says:

    Gaaaah, I wrote a really good reply and the computer ate it :(

    > Some spurious iTunes bashing there

    I don’t think it’s spurious: any paid-for download shop will face this issue eventually. The fundamental issue here is that IMO 128Kbps tracks from any encoder are spectacularly poor value, and the encoder that makes those tracks is perfectly capable of doing 192, 256, 320Kbps VBR. Not doing that is a commercial rather than a technological decision, and effectively you’re paying near-CD prices for music that’s nowhere near CD quality. Over the next few years it’s a no-brainer that bitrates will improve, but here’s why I think it’s a shit thing to charge for quality upgrades:

    * When you buy a track, the quality’s fixed. That’s it. If quality improves at a later date, you have to buy it again. The argument is “well, when you bought it we only sold 128Kbps tracks. Sorry.”

    * When you buy a track, the DRM isn’t fixed. Changes can be made retrospectively at any time. The argument is “well, when you bought it then yes, you had X rights, but we’ve changed that now. Sorry.”

  3. Gary says:

    Aye. Needless to say, bittorrent doesn’t suffer from any of these problems. yep, it’s illegal, but so is ripping legally-bought CDs to MP3s…

  4. Tony Kiernan says:

    And, this bears no resemblence to buying your vinyl on Cd only ot find later that they actually know what their doing and release the properly remastered version. And then…

  5. Gary says:

    Oh, absolutely. But the gap between vinyl, CD and SACD/DVD-A wasn’t months and there were genuine leaps in quality each time :)

    (apart from the move from vinyl, which really did sound better dammit)

  6. paul says:

    >it’s illegal, but so is ripping legally-bought CDs to MP3s…

    That’s an interesting point. In the eyes of the law, which is *more* illegal, I wonder.

  7. Gary says:

    Well, it’s obvious which one’s more likely to get you done – the labels would have to be utterly, utterly insane to consider taking action against people ripping legally bought CDs for personal use. They’d much rather install a rootkit and break your PC ;-)

  8. Stephen says:

    Of course it’s a lousy thing to charge for quality upgrades: all I was saying is that Apple have not announced such a policy, and have not even announced the availability of higher quality downloads in the first place, so it’s jumping the gun a bit to claim that they will.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *