Amazon vs. ShockHound: Where to Buy Your Long-Playing DRM-Free MP3s And Why


A brief look at the current prices of some of the longest DRM-free music mp3s on the marketplace at two major vendors, and why you should or should not buy them from either vendor based strictly on price.

Today we compare some of the longest DRM-free offerings of Amazon and ShockHound, in an attempt to completely fill an iPod nano with as few songs as possible. (You guys remember ShockHound, right? Hot Topic Inc’s scrappy DRM-free MP3 site that launched last fall, we hosted that party at the Troubadour with Titus Andronicus and No Age, yours truly was mumbling belligerently onstage briefly…ringing any bells? No?) Turns out maybe I should have added a clause to that good ol’ ShockHound contract, because all of the suddenly I’m giving them mad publicity today.

I was shopping around for Miles Davis mp3s out of curiosity yesterday morning, and I discovered that one can in essence buy a $20 album for less than two bucks, once you figure out who’s got what tagged “Album Only”. (N/B: You are an absolute fool not to download both tracks off Pangaea below for a whopping $1.98, but I’ll save the speech as tastes differ in these waters.) Many commercial digital offerings on the market will throw one or two songs into the dreaded “Album Only” category, rendering your digi-album or playlist incomplete unless you kowtow to the ugly ploy which forces you to buy a full album at a higher price just for one song (how very 20th century). Well, fuck that. As you’ll soon see, the labels don’t even properly manage “Album Only” tracks on a vendor-by-vendor basis.

Why the long songs?
After I’d finished with Miles, I stuck with very lengthy selections for this exercise in order to see who was pricing on a weighted scale based on song length (Amazon), and who was foolishly giving away 45-minute 80mb files for 99cents (both, to my surprise). Unfortunately you still can’t buy something like the hour-long opus Sex by The Necks anywhere digitally (and jesus! I’m holding onto that CD, because the fucker is apparently selling for $36 retail, go figure); nonetheless, I feel I’ve managed to amass a somewhat well-rounded cross-section of ridiculously long mp3s below. Note that every so often I threw a curve ball just to gauge the libraries of both vendors.

Regarding MP3 Quality
Amazon claims to have 256kbps mp3s; Shockhound claims 192kbps minimum. So both of these options already beat the pants off of iTunes (128kb with DRM) and iTunes Plus (256kb DRM-free - but AAC, not mp3, not exactly universal out of the box and often pricier to boot).


Miles DavisPangaeaZimbabwe41:49$0.99$18.99 (Album Only)
Miles DavisPangaeaGondwana46:51$0.99$18.99 (Album Only)
Frank ZappaDisconnected SynapsesKing Kong31:38$0.99NZ (No Zappa!)
MetallicaRide The LightningThe Call of Ktulu8:53$0.99$9.99 (Album Only)
TortoiseTNTEverglade8:45$0.99NT (Seriously No Tortoise?!)
Jaco PastoriusWord of MouthThree Views of a Secret5:55$0.99$9.99 (Album Only)
CanTago MagoHalleluwah18:28$2.90NC (No Can! weak)
John ColtraneAscensionEdition II40:56$7.99 (Album Only)$0.99
John ColtraneAscensionEdition I38:30$7.99 (Album Only)$0.99
Brian EnoAmbient 1/Music For Airports1/117:21$2.90$0.99
Jethro TullThick as a BrickPart 122:40$3.87$0.99
Jethro TullThick as a BrickPart 221:09$3.87$0.99
Rush2112211220:32$7.97 (Album Only)$0.99
Charles MingusMingus Mingus Mingus Mingus MingusI X Love7:41$7.99 (Album Only)$0.99
The WhoTommyUnderture10:09$10.97 (Album Only)$0.99
The WhoTommy (Deluxe)Underture10:03$14.19 (Album Only)$0.99
The Jimi Hendrix ExperienceElectric LadylandVoodoo Chile14:59$9.49 (Album Only)$0.99
The Jimi Hendrix ExperienceElectric Ladyland1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)13:39$9.49 (Album Only)$0.99
Pat MethenyWorksEvery Day (I Thank You)13:17$9.49 (Album Only)$0.99
Sonny Rollins & Thelonious MonkPrestige Profiles: Sonny RollinsMore Than You Know10:48$11.98 (Album Only)$0.99
Sonny RollinsPrestige Profiles: Sonny RollinsTenor Madness12:18$11.98 (Album Only)$0.99
Sonny RollinsPrestige Profiles: Sonny RollinsMoritat10:04$11.98 (Album Only)$0.99
Fela KutiSorrow, Tears & BloodSorrow, Tears & Blood10:16$9.49 (Album Only)$0.99
Sun RaSpace Is the PlaceSpace Is the Place21:14$9.49 (Album Only)$0.99
Pharoah SandersKarmaThe Creator Has A Master Plan32:47$9.49 (Album Only)$0.99
Pink FloydAnimalsDogs17:08$2.90$0.99
Miles DavisAghartaInterlude26:22$0.99$0.99
Miles DavisA Tribute to Jack JohnsonRight Off26:55$0.99$0.99
Miles DavisBitches BrewPharaoh’s Dance20:06$0.99$0.99
Miles DavisIn a Silent WayShhh/Peaceful18:16$0.99$0.99
YesRelayerTo Be Over9:05$0.99$0.99
Serge GainsbourgL’Histoire De Melody NelsonCargo Culte7:38$0.99$0.99
Black Renaissance (Harry Whitaker)Black Renaissance: Body, Mind and SpiritBlack Renaissance23:40NBR (No…)NBR (Ditto.)
Ornette ColemanFree JazzFree Jazz37:04$11.49 (Album Only)$13.99 (Album Only)
Fela KutiRoforofo Fight / The Fela SinglesGo Slow17:22$9.49 (Album Only)NA (unfathomably weak Fela library)
Jaco PastoriusWord of MouthLiberty City11:57$9.99 (Album Only)$9.99 (Album Only)
Bill CosbyWonderfulnessTonsils15:07NA$9.99 (Album Only)
R KellyTrapped in the ClosetChapters 1-516:34$7.92 (Album Only)$7.99 (Album Only)
YesRelayerThe Gates Of Delerium21:50$9.99 (Album Only)$9.99 (Album Only)
YesThe Yes AlbumPerpetual Change(Note: Way too fucking confusing, this one, with the multiple releases and wavering published running time between 8-14 minutes. Suffice say discrepancies exist.)
The Grateful DeadNote: All Dead files appear synced across the board, generally $0.99 with the occasional “Album Only” thrown in. I found the pointed absence of a digitized One From The Vault at both e-tailers surprising.

So there you have it. Those prices are valid as of January 27, 2009, and big labels are clearly still shooting themselves in the foot. By not forcing the same tracks to be “album only” across the board, the policy becomes a laughable joke. Granted, most or all of the above is back catalog, but still: Who’s managing what out there!? And now please excuse me, for I’m off to cherry-pick some more of that sweet, sweet fruit before one or more of our label contacts reads this, flips out and yanks the goods.

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