Bob Dylan and iTunes sell un-rippable music – UPDATED

See the bottom of this post for new information about the track-listing on the deluxe CD

If you buy the latest Bob Dylan album from the iTunes Music Store, be prepared to lose four of the tracks when you burn it to CD. Four of the tracks on "Modern Times," which is only sold with the whole album on the iTMS, are only made available as video files, and iTunes isn't designed to allow you to burn the audio portion of a video when you burn your CD.

The CD version of "Modern Times" comes as a 14-track 10-track (the Amazon listing for this disc is incorrect) disc that includes the audio of the four iTunes videos; also included with the CD is a DVD carrying the four videos. In other words, if you buy the packaged good, you get the audio and the videos for the final four songs, if you buy the iTunes Store version, you only get the un-burnable videos for them.

The iTunes experience is lauded for its consistency and fairness, and for the ease with which iTunes customers can convert their purchased songs into MP3s. But this is a dramatic failure of the consistency, clarity and ease of iTunes.

First, when you attempt to burn the album (with the video-files, which are only distinguished from the audio-files by a small, obscure grey icon) to CD, the iTunes error message says only that the files "cannot be burned to an audio CD," which led Kim Cameron, an experienced computer user and IT executive, to conclude that the files were locked — an error stating that these were video files would have been clearer.

Second, the whole Modern Times package defeats the simplicity of the iTunes pricing model — $0.99/track for any track. While the $14 price-tag gets you 14 "tracks," it's not possible to buy singles from the disc and get the videos as well, nor is there any discount for buying the whole CD instead of a tack-by-track purchase. And since four of the tracks are not "music" in the sense of being burnable and rippable, you're really paying more on a per-track basis. Remember the outcry when Edgar Bronfman, Jr threatened to raise the cost of some iTunes songs and lower the cost of others? Here we have a similar kind of differential pricing sneaking in via the back-door.

Finally, here's a way in which buying iTunes tracks creates real long-term lock-in to iTunes and iPods: since iTunes videos are locked to the Apple platform, and since the only way to get any of Modern Times through iTMS is to pay for these videos, Apple and Dylan are slyly adding some lock-in to the user experience without any explicit statement about it.

Apple could make this much better by offering both the videos and the audio, or by patching iTunes to allow for burning of the audio portion of videos. But better still would be to turn off the DRM altogether. There's another way to get Modern Times and burn it to a CD: you can buy it from, a service of disputed legality, for a fraction of Apple's pricing. Or you can download it from a P2P network. Apple's offering costs more and does less than its competitors'. How can this possibly be good business-sense?

Well, there is one way. By providing crippleware files, Apple makes it harder to switch to a competing portable player. And by giving Apple permission to cripple his music, Bob Dylan makes it harder for his fans to change to a competing service, which in turn makes it harder for Dylan to re-negotiate his own deal with Apple. Let's hope that Apple's interests and Bob Dylan's interests remain identical forever, then, for his sake.


Update: Amazon's track listing for the deluxe CD erroneously listed the CD as coming with 14 music tracks; however, it appears that only 10 tracks come on the CD, and the rest come on a bonus DVD as videos.

For Dylan and Sony, it's an interesting approach to the music: it makes the "album" into a less-separable package that loses value when converted to MP3. Apple's strategy of using a proprietary video DRM for its digital-only version of the disc goes beyond "adding value," though — as noted above, the new value comes with new lock-in, since the videos get tethered to iTunes, while the music could be exported by being burned and re-ripped as MP3s.