Wed, Sep 13, 2006, 2:34am The iTunes Cover Art Giveaway
Computers » Mac » Apps
iven all the bigger features in the new iTunes 7, I'd like to just mention that Apple did a very shrewd thing today in one of it's smaller features. Specifically, allowing anyone with an iTunes Music Store (iTMS) account to auto-download cover art for all their albums (something you could have done by hand for albums you didn't buy on the iTMS, but people rarely did) and providing a beautiful album browsing mechanism. As for me, I didn't have any cover art at the start of today. Didn't care about it much. But it's very nice to have it now. Here's some musing about what a good move this seemingly small touch is.

  • First, it just looks very nice and is fun to flip around. They used a nice graphical cover-flipping effect called "Cover Flow" (an effect used in other apps before, but they bought this implementation, along with its name, from Steel Skies). Increases good vibes toward Apple / iTunes.
  • Next, in order to use the feature you have to register an iTMS account, even if you don't buy anything. Registering brings you within a cat's whisker of buying from their huge library of music, and now a few movies perhaps as well. (If you're a .Mac user but aren't an iTMS user, you're a tiny step from being registered already.)
  • Third, it's a (potentially) huge information grab for Apple, perhaps the largest data-mining of its kind. Statistical information on music that everyone has sitting in their music library that they haven't purchased via the iTMS. Marketing info that people dream about getting at this volume. (Note: I can only presume that Apple is in fact tracking this info. I have no knowledge that they actually are. I'm just assuming it'd be madness not to track it.)
  • Lastly, and this one hit me almost immediately upon browsing album covers (and may not have been explicitly thought out by Apple per se): For some reason looking at the album cover increases the intensity of the thought, "I should really buy the whole album (or at least more) at some point." This is especially strong if I have one song off an album, look at the cover and remember what a great album it was and how it'd be nice to have the whole thing again. This will only contribute to the infamous iCrack effect that happens with people using the iTMS (in which users buy tons of music without thinking about it much).

    The brilliant thing about iTunes is how fluent and small a step it is from thinking that you want music to owning it. (Their pricing scheme also helps, because it removes the critical consumer moment of waiting until they check on the price of something. You usually already know the price.) The cover art can lure one to the point of sale, even if it's just to replace that crappy copy of the song that you downloaded back in the heyday of Napster. Er… not that anyone has anything like that.

In case you think I'm a proselytizing iTMS enthusiast, I'll mention that I have yet to buy a single song from the iTMS. I still tend to buy CDs and rip them. It'll be interesting to see if I start buying. Who knows, maybe I'll become disinterested in the feature in a week and scratch my head looking back at this post.

  • KenC (Wed, September 13th, 2006, 11:42am UTC)
    When you sign in with the new iTunes7, it asks you if you want cover art, and then it tells you that it needs to gather the data for your music library but then chucks it away. Apple does not keep your music data.

  • Jeff (Wed, September 13th, 2006, 1:23pm UTC)
    I didn't notice that, KenC. But it still makes me think that the must have data on what album covers have been downloaded by people in general, just statistically. I believe they wouldn't keep or correlate my iTunes data per se, but it seems very valuable to have the statistical info on this. (It's just sitting in their log files.) I'm not being paranoid, I don't think, just being pragmatic about data mining. Like when search engines say they don't store your search results (if not logged in), but they certainly collect statistical info on what people search on.

    Again, it may be that they just don't collect this statistical info at all. It'd just be surprising to me. If nothing else, you'd think it'd be worth something to sell the info back to record companies.

  • Fishcough (Fri, September 15th, 2006, 10:06am UTC)
    Good point about the data-mining potential of the cover art grab. I've been using Clutter to do that, but decided to give Apple's technology a try for a couple albums. It's fast and flawless, but it does make me paranoid. Even though they say Apple doesn't retain the info, there's no good reason for asking for your iTunes account to fetch artwork. Maybe we should all wait a while to see if any RIAA arrests result from people using this feature . . .

  • Jeff (Fri, September 15th, 2006, 1:40pm UTC)
    I'm quite sure this info wouldn't get forwarded to the RIAA. There's no way to say that the songs that you have weren't obtained legally, so the RIAA wouldn't be able to claim anything based on this data. Their other lawsuits are based on the fact that they catch people in the act of downloading them. Here you already "own" them, you're just requesting cover art. It's all on the up-and-up.

    The data mining is probably an impersonal glimpse at what people really have in their collections on the whole, and not a way to track any individual, which would be illegal on Apple's part since they specifically say that they aren't doing that. Apple's never been known to breach personal information privacy in this way, so no reason to suspect something like that now.

    The 2nd and 4th points above seem to most relevant to me lately. They got me to register an iTMS account (still unused, but now tempting), and when I see album covers I often find myself thinking I should buy the whole album.

    The only thing that bugs me now is that I can't see the cover art stuff without any of the rest of iTunes when it's playing in the background, making it take up way too much screen space.

  • Fishcough (Sat, September 16th, 2006, 10:27am UTC)
    Jeff: Thanks for alieviating some of my fears. I'm a long-time Apple customer and basically trust the company not to do evil (as much as I do Google), but I couldn't figure out why they asked for the ID. Your 2nd point makes a lot of sense in this regard. And yeah, having the album cover art does put you in the mind-set of buying the whole album (your 4th point) — reversing the singles-only buying practice the iTunes store has been accused of fostering. Ditto for the gapless playback thing, by the way (I finally bought the digital version of "Dark Side of the Moon" this week!).

  • Jeff (Sat, September 16th, 2006, 12:09pm UTC)
    Yeah, the gapless playback is good stuff. (And "Dark Side", the quintessential album per se.)

  • Jeff (Thu, September 28th, 2006, 12:46am UTC)
    something Joe pointed out to me:

    FYI — The iTunes 7 installer "setup assistant" album art screen says: "Information about songs with missing artwork will be sent to Apple. Apple does not keep any information related to the contents of your music library."

  • jansensan (Sat, November 11th, 2006, 7:51pm UTC)
    through all this is till don't get it, it does not cost anything to get the cover art?

  • Jeff (Sun, November 12th, 2006, 11:32am UTC)
    Right, the cover art is a free download, if you have any songs off that album in your iTunes library. You don't have to have purchased the songs from the iTunes Music Store either. Almost all of my music are mp3 files that I ripped from CDs.

    They don't have album art for all albums, of course. I've only been able to download album art for no more than a third of my music, if that. Sometimes you have to make sure you have the album name just right also. But if it's available, it downloads just fine. We're not talking very high-resolution images, but it's not bad for free.

  • rk3dov (Fri, May 22nd, 2009, 12:49pm UTC)
    Try iGCover — free OS X app for searching artwork for iTunes music in google.

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