The Cheapest Places To Buy Music Online
Download tracks from legitimate music download sites for as little as 25p.
A decade ago, it would have been inconceivable. A few years ago, it would have been illegal. But nowadays, it's so cheap, easy and convenient that everyone's doing it.
After all, why would you buy a CD when you can download it instead for half the price?
Of course, this question is not quite as simple as it seems. With the battle to become top of the pops online heating up, there are now plenty of music download sites to choose from -- but how much tracks cost and what you get for your money varies widely.
Digital music files come in a range of file formats so it is worth checking that you can download tracks in a format compatible with what you intend to play it on. MP3 files work on most devices including iPods but WMA (Windows Media Audio) files are less widely playable.
DRM (digital rights management), is also worth checking. DRM is part of a music file and manages what you can and cannot do with the file such as how many times you can copy it either to a CD or another machine such as an MP3 player.
How much does it cost?
Tracks on iTunes cost 79p each to download and most albums cost £7.99, although older titles can be found for less. Paying this entitles the customer to keep the track on their computer or other device forever. The site also gives away one song a week for free.
Initially, songs bought on iTunes could only be played on a computer or iPod mp3 player due to DRM restrictions. But DRM-free songs on iTunes Plus were introduced last April and existing members can upgrade their collection to iTunes Plus for 20p per song or 25% of the album price, and then download them to a device other than an iPod.
Unlike iTunes, rival Napster offers subscription services as well as pay-per-track. Napster Light is the sites pay-per-track service and songs cost 79p and albums from £7.95. The songs are yours to keep and you can transfer your music to over 75 compatible MP3 players.
Alternatively Napster Membership costs £9.95 a month and gives you access to Napster's entire catalogue to play on your PC. But if you want to transfer the tracks on another device such as an MP3 player, you will need Napster-To-Go which costs £14.95 a month. At the moment if you sign up for six months you get a free 2GB Creative Zen mp3 player to play your music on.
However you lose access to the tracks if you cancel your subscription -- the only way to keep them forever is to pay 79p per track.
There are cheaper sites than iTunes and Napster but none rivals their extensive collection of tracks; both boast around 6 million songs.
HMV Digital offer single downloads for 59p, 20p cheaper than iTunes and albums for up to £4 cheaper, potentially a huge saving. eMusic.com is probably the cheapest site at £8.99 for 30 downloads which works out to about 30p per track. You also get 50 free downloads when you sign up. The downside is the site has limited choice and you can't browse what's on offer before agreeing to a trial subscription. The advantage is that they deliver tracks in MP3 format without DRM.
Meanwhile Tesco.com charges 79p per track, Wippit.com charges anything from 29p to 75p per song, Easymusic.com between 25p and 95p, and Woolworths 59p to 79p. 7Digital charges 50p for some singles but up to 99p for current hits although it does give some tracks away for free. Album prices vary from site to site and by artist -- older ones are cheaper than those currently in the charts.
Be wary of illegal `peer-to-peer' sites such as Limewire, Kazaa, Morpheus and Bearshare that allow users to effectively share their music collection with other members for free. As well as exposing your PC to security risks and viruses, sharing music this way is illegal and you could receive a large fine.
Also beware of sites that claim to offer free music downloads. Some such as ez-tracks.com display songs by well-known artists but the small print shows they are performed by other, unheard of, groups. Others give away music from unsigned bands so don't expect to find your favourite artists.
There are other ways to listen to music for free. Internet-based radio station lastfm.com builds a profile of each user's musical tastes and stream music. Streamed music means it is not stored on the listener's PC, simply played through its speakers. However a small number of artists also allow their music to be downloaded from the site for free.