I've spent a lot of time bad-mouthing the Canadian music industry's reluctance to wade into the digital music world, so it's good to be able to say something nice for a change. Last week, amidst much fanfare and self-congratulatory backslapping, the Canadian music biz launched Puretracks ( www.puretracks.com ), the first legitimate music downloading site in Canada. Many spectators, myself admittedly included, were suspicious.
In the past, the industry responded to the whole downloading issue, concerns about music prices and the resulting shift in how buyers think about getting their music with ham-fisted education campaigns, so it was unclear whether the site would offer anything worthwhile. Would it be another PressPlay, repackaging the same problems in a digital cloak? Would it answer the concerns that drove people to illegal file-sharing sites in the first place - namely price and choice?
So far, there's not much to complain about. Puretracks offers high-quality, virus-free, burnable downloads at a fair price and, most importantly, song by song.
This last bit is crucial. The industry has long resisted moving beyond the album format, and this will be the decider as to whether Puretracks sinks or swims.
The reality is that music buyers now consume song by song rather than album by album. By embracing that concept and offering songs for 99 cents and up, the industry has acknowledged that the landscape of the business itself has changed and that the new technology is to be embraced, not steamrollered.
It didn't come easy. Some have described this as a business change prompted by the industry's having a gun put to its head. Either way, it's a good thing.
Early traffic-related hiccups aside, the service is fast and efficient. For selection, Puretracks is heavy on major-label music (no surprise there, considering who holds the cards), but there are also some obscure choices. You can get Fela Kuti's Coffin For The Head Of State for $1.98.
Canadian content boosterism is also in effect: the site offers exclusive tracks by Remy Shand, Sam Roberts, Sarah Harmer and others.
Now the bad news. Puretracks is only for PCs. It also arrived at the same time that Apple launched a Windows version of iTunes.
So far, the Apple iTunes online music store, which has sold 13 million songs in the U.S. to Mac users, is only available south of the border.
Apple is being very cagey about the launch of a Canadian version, but the assumption is that Puretracks' deals with the major labels will ultimately clear the way for the local arrival of iTunes as well as the new Napster.
As the many Canadians who have set up iTunes accounts with a relative's U.S. mailing address will attest, Apple's service is a beautiful thing and will leave Puretracks in the dust.
Until then, support the local service. The more the music industry focuses on these kinds of initiatives and the less they go around filing lawsuits, the better off we'll all be.