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 emusic.com, where I get 30 tracks per month. (I love it!) Alas, emusic.com 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, emusic.com 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, amazon.com, 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 amazon.com experience, I went back to the German amazon store, amazon.de. 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.

Well Done: Lonely Planet To Sell Guidebooks By The Chapter


Lonely Planet has always been very good at thinking from their customers’ point of view. You can see that clearly by the structure of their guidebooks, which are always built around your needs as a traveler.

Still, the most recent announcement surprised me, in the most positive way: Lonely Planet now sells their guidebooks by the chapter. You just download and print whatever you need, chapter prices seem to be very fair. Example? The California Guidebook’s chapter about the San Francisco Bay Area costs a mere two Euros. (Deal!)

Now this is a great example of a simple, yet powerful way to sell more while producing less clutter: My bookshelf is full of guidebooks in various degrees of decay, some more out-dated than others. (While I like the idea of having them around, I don’t even want to know how much I spent on this line of books right there, not even to mention packing them all the next time I move.)

Usually I’d say that offering your print products as a PDF download is hardly a special feature or great service, but simple a must-have – and that the added value is somewhere different, some kind of extra service: powerful search, recommendations and the like. But in the case of guide books, this most simple of all solutions is actually very effective. Publishers, take notice and learn from Lonely Planet…