Christopher Breen, whose iPod- and iTunes-themed musings normally occupy this space, is currently bobbing around the Mediterranean Sea as part of the latest
MacMania cruise. He’s in for quite a shock when he arrives back on dry land. After all, when Chris boarded the ms Noordam, he lived in a world where the heavy-metal band Metallica shunned the iTunes Music Store and its policy of making individual tracks available for download. Now, when he returns to shore and fires up iTunes, the grizzled visages of Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield
will be staring back at him.
I think the shock might possibly kill him.
As you probably know, Metallica has a colorful history with online music. The band had a
memorable clash with Napster, back when that site made free—and illegal—copies of songs available for download. When Apple launched the iTunes Music Store three years ago,
Metallica’s absence was notable. The reason given at the time: iTunes shoppers could download individual tracks as well as complete albums. Metallica, a band spokesman said, “would rather not contribute to the demise of the album format.”
If you wanted to get a Metallica song at other online sites like
MTV’s URGE, you could—provided you bought the whole album. That changed Tuesday after
Metallica songs appeared in iTunes, allowing you to pay 99 cents for a copy of
“Enter Sandman” and make like
Mariano Rivera to your hearts content; other music sites have since followed suit.
Why this sudden change of heart by the band? The announcement on
Metallica’s Web site —which I would warn against visiting if you prefer language to be of the un-salty variety—is somewhat vague.
Over the last year or so, we have seen an ever-growing number of Metallica fans using online sites like iTunes to get their music. So, in continuing with the tradition of offering our albums for sale online (which we’ve been doing for a few years through various sites), as well as making our live concerts available for download in their entirety (through the livemetallica.com site), we are now offering fans the opportunity to obtain our songs individually.
So if I had to make a guess as to the reasoning behind the move, it’s that the members of Metallica dislike leaving money on the table as much as you or I would.
As big a stir as Tuesday’s Metallica announcement caused, it may not have been the most interesting development involving the iTunes Music Store. That came courtesy of Warner Bros., which
made several TV shows available for purchase. Along with hits like Friends and Babylon 5 , Warner Bros. also released a single episode of the TV program
Never heard of the Aquaman TV series? That’s because there isn’t one—or more accurately, there won’t be one. Warner Bros. filmed a pilot episode with the hope that the television series would be picked up by a network for the fall season—it wasn’t. And now, according to
Variety, Aquaman becomes the first instance of a failed pilot being made available for purchase.
Studios make a lot of pilots each year that, for one reason or another, don’t get picked up by TV networks. Add that the number of shows that are put on television schedules, only to wind up cancelled with unaired episodes gathering dust on somebody’s shelf. I can’t help but think that the success of Aquaman at the iTunes Music Store—as I write this, it’s the
No. 1 video download —might make TV executives rethink how they handle discarded shows. I’m not suggesting that cancelled programs could be revived with original content produced solely for iTunes—the economics of TV production just wouldn’t allow for that. But as a place for depositing unaired episodes, failed pilots, and other curiosities—iTunes could serve that purpose very well. It would also allow TV studios to recoup some money out of programming that would otherwise never see the light of day.
And as the members of Metallica will tell you, it’s a lot better making your own money with digital downloads than watching someone else do it.