How I tried (and failed at) legally buying music in Germany

Please note: What’s about to follow is a rant. It’s also advice to music labels. Short-short version, dear content traders: Make your stuff more easily available.

This is a story of a sucky customer experience. As customers and experts alike will tell you, users like to rock, not to suck.

Buying music online is supposedly easy. Or so you’d think. And indeed it can be, as I learned from the awesome music subscription at, where I get 30 tracks per month. (I love it!) Alas, doesn’t have access to all the music out there, so if you’re looking for something in particular you might end up with zero search results there.

I just tried to buy the new Gnarls Barkley album, The Odd Couple. Sadly, didn’t have it. But hey, it’s 2008 and the labels aren’t the stupid, slow & bullying giants they once were, right?


So let me try to briefly describe my journey – trying to buy a normal, major-label pop album.

First up, iTunes, as linked to from the original Gnarls Barkley website. I’m sure there it would have worked, but since iTunes writes your email address into the files you buy, I don’t really feel like buying there. I don’t know if having my email address in my music would cause any harm as of now, but I’m almost sure any kind of (even stripped-down) DRM is inherently evil and will lead to trouble at some point. There goes iTunes.

Second stop, 7digital, “The Home of MP3 Downloads”. 7digital has the album, even though the price (7.99 British Pounds) seems a bit steep for a digital download. But ok, I’m willing to cough up the price for a regular physical CD even though distribution costs equal nearly zero for the label. Why not. Hey, you need to sign up to their service instead of just buying through your credit card. Ok. Wow, even the newsletter signup is opt-in. Unless, of course, you don’t fill out all the form fields – after showing me an error message, the newsletter was suddenly ticked, I didn’t notice after having it checked beforehand and clicked, and all of a sudden had a 7digital account and a newsletter I didn’t want. As a user, I simply didn’t want to feel like being tricked into a newsletter while buying a simple music album and, slightly grumpy at this point, canceled the purchase.

Third, good ol’ amazon. The US version,, offers The Odd Couple for an amazing $5.00. How awesome is that? I was already sold. I even agreed to download the Amazon Download Manager. For whatever reason I would need that I still haven’t figured out. After it was installed and I clicked the Buy button — nothing. Not living in the US, I’m excluded from music downloads. Books aren’t a problem, neither are electronics. But digital goods, those zeros and ones, no way.

Fourth, disappointed from the experience, I went back to the German amazon store, I could have spared myself the effort: In Germany, Amazon doesn’t sell music downloads.

From there it went downhill. Where I found DRM-free Gnarls Barkley music, it was their old album, which is great, but wasn’t what I was looking for.

My conclusion? I tried to pay you money for music. I tried hard, and annoyingly long. As long as this kind of effort doesn’t allow for a legal, DRM-free download, the music industry has no reason whatsoever to complain about losing sales. As bloggers and press people learn early on: Make your stuff available. Make it easy to get it. That is the first and most important rule when trying to increase your reach and your sales, or when you simply want to get your message out. Music labels, learn this lesson. If you hide your goods or don’t bother making them more convenient to use, those regular folks out there (us!) won’t bother either.


I had a similar experience: Since I heard songs of the Great album “Rhizomes” from the “Inklings” on Pandora (at a time when it was possible to listen to Pandora in Germany :( ). I wanted to buy it and also was willing to pay the 10 bucks or so. Although I don’t have a credit card, I tried, but… NO ONLINE-SHOP HAD THIS ALBUM. NOT ONE. Not iTunes, not …

So, sadly you’re right… RM

Thanks for sharing this – it sucks, doesn’t it? Also, it’s hard to understand why, oh why, the majors don’t simply streamline the process. It seems perfectly doable. Or maybe I’m missing something?

@Anonymous No.1: I could just go and get the CD. However, I won’t, for two reasons:

1.) I move quite frequently, and have lived abroad several times. CDs are the first thing NOT to take along because they are too bulky. So while I enjoy CDs, mostly purely because they are physical objects, I find them highly impractical.

2.) In Germany, format and time shifting – better known as “ripping your CD” – is legally very problematic. If for example there is a copy protection of any sort on a CD, it’s illegal to circumvent this copy protection. And in case you’re wondering: Yes, that’s even if you legally bought the CD and will not share it with anyone. The argument behind this (pretty dumb) law is that even if you pay for the music, you don’t own it, but only purchase the right to use the CD in certain ways which are laid out by the music label. Copying a CD to your iPod is not usually one of these ways. To cut a long story short: Even if you buy a music CD, chances are it’s illegal to put that music on your mp3 player.

In general, I think it should be the customers’ choice in which format they prefer to buy and consume their music. It’s really a matter of service & choice.

I am a German student currently living in the UK, got a itunes account for their store. Which doesnt work in Germany, because I used a British Visa card. So itunes store doesnt work for me in Germany, very useless. Sure there are other alternatives, but why make something legal so complicated? The music I listen to is mostly underground metal so also very hard to find in the first place. Thank god for rapidshare :)

Na ja… scheint mir alles etwas konstruiert. Die ersten beiden Möglichkeiten wären zumindest möglich und machbar gewesen, wurden aber “abgebrochen” mit jeweils fadenscheinigen Erklärungen (sonst hätte dieser Artikel ja nicht erscheinen können). Damit wir uns nicht falsch verstehen: DRM ist scheisse, aber bei 7digital nicht zu kaufen, weil man da sonst evtl. versehentlich einen Newslette abonniert (man wird nicht gezwungen) ist lächerlich. Aber hauptsache, man hat was zu meckern und kann auf die böse und unfähige Musikindustrie einschlagen, nicht?

…this is why you all should check out Here you will get more than 9.000 Albums for free and legal download. Jamendo is the largest music platform worldwide which offers music licensed through Creative Commons. You can download as much as you want and you don’t even need to register. Ok…you won’t find the new Gnarls Barkley…but there is tons of music which is interesting anyways.

Leave a Reply