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How Not to Sell MP3s

March 15, 2009

I recently came across the band 3 on last.fm and absolutely love them. I managed to find all of their albums via torrents, but I thought I would actually buy their stuff since they aren't on an RIAA label. Their website didn't help at all and CDBaby didn't have any of their stuff. I was about to give up when I thought I'd give Amazon a try. Turns out, it was a good idea; Amazon had all of their albums available for sale. But, that's also where the problem came in.

Their oldest album, Paint by Number, was only available as an mp3 download. In order to buy mp3s from Amazon, you have to download their software. "Crap," I thought, "they always do this and the software never runs in Linux!" But to my surprise, theirs did! I'd still prefer a normal download link, but whatever, I installed it just to check it out. They give you a free mp3 to try the software out, and it worked just fine. "Great, now I can buy the album I want!"

Of course, their webpage kept kicking me off the album I was trying to buy and I had to keep pulling it back in from my history. And the album page lacked a way to purchase the whole thing, I had to hunt that down from the band's album list page. How any normal person (ie. my parents, or, gasp, my grandparents) is supposed to buy mp3s from Amazon is beyond me!

Despite all these problems, I finally had a "Buy MP3 Album" link and I was ready to go. I clicked on it and it verified that I would be purchasing the album. "Awesome, here we go," I thought, thinking I would be taken to the checkout process and be given this magical file which would download the album through the download software I just installed. I couldn't have been more wrong. Instead, I was greeted with a page saying that the order failed and that I had to do one of the following:

  • Verify or update your 1-click billing address in the "Payment Settings" section of Your Account. (with a link)
  • Retry with the existing credit card. (no idea what this means, I tried 3 times and got the same errors)
  • Choose a different payment method from your account. (the one useful tip, with no indication of how I would do that!)
  • Enter a new payment method. (Again, no link, no idea how!!!!)

They did have a link to their Help pages, which had all kinds of information on the Kindle 2, tracking my shipment, etc. No indication of how I buy mp3s without 1-click billing enabled or "[c]hoose a different payment method." Needless to say, this crap is unusable! I've uninstalled their software, vowed to never buy mp3s from their site (not that I could if I wanted to, which I did) and I'll no go out of my way to buy the physical discs from some other site, whether they're available on Amazon or not.

This is exactly how not to sell mp3s. With processes like this, it's no wonder at all why nobody can cut in to Apple's market, no matter how over-priced and under-featured their players are and how terrible their iTunes software is!


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