Coming to (iTunes) Pass

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Today, Apple unveiled iTunes Pass, a new pre-order system that lets fans of particular bands purchase future content. The first iTunes Pass goes to Depeche Mode, costs $19, and provides—at the very least—the band’s upcoming Sounds of the Universe album, a new single called “Wrong,” and a club remix of the new track “Oh Well.” Additionally promised are extended singles, remixes, videos, and the ever-enticing “more,” all of which will be released over the next few months.

Now, the fine print. According to Apple, iTunes Pass songs and music videos are delivered in the 256kbps AAC iTunes Plus format with no digital rights management (DRM). The contents of the Pass are subject to change, and when you purchase a Pass, you have no guarantee of exactly what you’ll receive. The purchase price won’t exceed the market value of what you get so you needn’t worry that for your $19 you’ll get no more than a single and an e-mail message from the band with a subject heading that reads “Sucker!” And when you purchase an iTunes Pass, you’ll immediately get everything currently available in the Pass as well as receive the rest of the Pass’ goods when they’re available. So, should you be only moderately interested in a band’s work, you can wait until the bin of available content fills up a bit and then make a more informed buying decision.

If you take a gander at Depeche Mode’s iTunes Pass page you’ll see a link that reads Go to standard version of the pre-order, which nicely hints that iTunes Pass is largely a grander version of a simple pre-order. In this case, however, it’s not just that you’re a fan willing to take a risk on an album. Rather, you’re a fanatic who, in the old days, bought the album, the singles, the t-shirt, the decorative lunch box, the band-approved bong, and had the band’s logo tattooed into a location rarely spied by even your most intimate pals.

While some may dismiss iTunes Pass as a pig-in-a-poke, those pig-pokers clearly have never had The Fever—that burning need to possess every scrap of media produced by The World’s Most Awesome Artist. As the dozens of English pressings of Elvis Costello’s first five years of 45s, LPs, and picture discs will attest, I’ve been there.

This seems like a win all around. Apple pulls in a little extra bank by exploiting fans’ Fever. Fans needn’t scour the Web for rare and exclusive releases. And artists have the opportunity to issue tracks and performances specifically for those who cherish their every warble and tweet.

Now that the Depeche Mode crew is taken care of, who next? What band intrigues you to the point where you’d invest—sight unseen—in its future releases?

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