Appreciating the classics

Apple has won a standing ovation for creating a new way to buy music. But fans of classical and jazz music give the iTunes Music Store only a polite round of applause; many see flaws in the store's setup. "Illogically labeled albums, mislabeled tracks, and inconsistently listed artists are the standard," notes Macworld reader Paul Schleuse—and he's not the only shopper to notice.

To be sure, the recent remodeling of the iTunes Music Store has addressed some of the problems. The store's classical section is now subdivided by musical periods (Early Music & Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Post-Romantic, Contemporary, and Opera & Operetta). And the search engine has been improved. Still, other problems remain.

Short Supply It's understandable that an online music store featuring 400,000 songs would skew heavily toward popular music. Still, even major classical works from big names such as Beethoven, Bach and Wagner are MIA. (Similarly, jazz fans will find a lot of partial albums and anthologies.)

Finding Faults Cataloging classical music can be complicated, but searching for a particular piece—for example, a symphony or a piano sonata—in the iTunes Music Store is a nightmare. Even if you search for Symphony No. 9 with Beethoven as the composer, the results almost always include works by other composers. Even with the Power Search feature, slight variations in search terms produce different results. Artists are listed alphabetically by first name, which makes browsing a search list difficult.

(Much of this problem may be beyond Apple's control. The iTunes Music Store listings may be only as accurate as the information supplied to Apple, whether from an online-database service or from the record companies. Apple declined to comment on where its data comes from, or on any customer feedback about its music store.)

So what should Apple do? It's now much easier to search by soloist, conductor, and composer—continued improvement would be welcome. As for selection, Apple could repeat what it's doing on the pop-music side of the store and make deals with the independent labels, which is where some of the most interesting classical and jazz recordings come from. A few of these modest changes could go a long way toward making the iTunes Music Store as orderly as a Bach fugue. 

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