Report: Online Music Stores Confuse Consumers

Music download providers aren't doing their jobs very well, according to a report out yesterday by market researcher Shelley Taylor & Associates.

The charge: offering confusing navigation and shamelessly locking customers into proprietary formats and music players. The penalty: frazzled users and poor sales.

"I'm amazed that these companies have ignored the big lessons from the 90s bust," said Shelley Taylor. "Chief among them: it's all about user-friendliness... the user experience," Taylor added. "Users are just not happy with existing service limitations to services and the barriers to getting what they're after."

Industry experts agree that, while consumers have been able to legally purchase downloaded music for about 16 months, sales are lagging. Just 16 percent of adults have bought digital tracks, according to December 2004 JupiterResearch, while 17 percent use subscription-based services. Ipsos, another research firm, said in November that 20 million Americans had purchased digital music.

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"Current offerings are too complicated," Greg Cohen, president and co-founder of Circuit City's MusicNow, previously told MediaDailyNews. Cohen explained that the present user experience was flawed, and caused consumers to feel "disenfranchised." Consumers want simplified services they can personalize, he added.

Even market leader iTunes fails to deliver, according to Taylor. "Apple seems to have put all their creative energy into their new brick-and-mortar stores--which are great--because iTunes just doesn't measure up to the company's standards." The iPod-driven iTunes store was outranked by music e- tailor Fnac in Taylor's study of the 15 best online music stores.

The French-based Fnac, according to Taylor, offers discounts for buying multiple tracks and the ability to download music videos and purchase concert tickets on its site. iTunes does not. "Buying videos online is the next big thing, but iTunes and others have their hands full with music... it's ridiculous."

Apple Computer did not return requests for comment on this story.

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