In January, I bitched about the fact that the pivotal Folkways recordings of world music and American folk were only available on MSN Music. Sometime last week (I don’t know when, I’m behind in my posts), the Smithsonian partially redressed that market inefficiency by opening Smithsonian Global Sound, their own online music store featuring $.99/track downloads (though some longer tracks are more expensive), a wide catalog of field and folk recordings, and a choice of two DRM-free formats—MP3 and FLAC. That’s right, you can buy lossless recordings from the store. Add downloadable liner notes and we’re all in business.
I do have one criticism of the store. This is a good place to buy a la carte from the massive Smithsonian archives, but not a good place to buy albums. There doesn’t seem to be a per-album price, meaning that if you find an album with 20 tracks, you’ll pay 20 dollars. And I think “by the album” is the way that most people will want to explore this music. After all, it’s not as though you’re coming to the Smithsonian looking for “hot singles.” Another, lesser critique: there is no persistent “wish list”—your shopping cart is emptied when you leave your session and there is no other way short of managing a list offline to keep track of songs that you might want to buy at another time.
What’s confusing about all of this is the supposedly exclusive agreement that MSN Music had to sell this music through September of this year, according to the original New York Times article. It sure looks like the same catalog to me.
I’m not complaining, though. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some downloading to do.