How to Keep from Spending $30K to Fill-Up an iPod
And What Music Service to 'Pass' on Which Will Cost Users $45,000 to Do the Same

by Joe Leo, Columnist

FEATURE: (06.19.09)-- June is the month for "Grads and Dads" and what better gift to buy for your graduate or dad than an iPod? With so many styles and colors, there's bound to be one that would make the perfect gift. Or, if they already have one, a quick and easy gift would be an iTunes gift card of any denomination from $10 to $100.

In order to keep your graduate and dad entertained beyond their initial gift, once they run out of credits, what are they to do? Is it really necessary for you and/or them to keep shelling out precious dollars to get their groove on?

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Of course, if you're so inclined, you could have waited until 7:00a local time today in your time zone, to get your graduate or dad the ultimate gift-- an iPhone 3G S. Then they'll have an iPod that's also a smart phone, and digital still camera with video, all in one great device! Wait a minute. That's not what today's article is about. Sorry!

Today's feature actually was inspired by a conversation between a student who was commenting on how music costs too much via iTunes and they'd get it elsewhere. At the time they also didn't have an iPod which they now have after receiving it as a graduation gift. Will they need $240 just to fill up their new iPod shuffle?

Or even $30,000 for that matter? Where'd you get that figure, you say.

As everyone well knows, Microsoft has been on the offensive lately, attacking Apple on its product price points in this slumping economy. The primary line of defense is that PCs are much cheaper and why spend more for an Apple product? First it was laptops, but now the playing field has turned to Microsoft tackling Apple's iPods and iTunes Music Store service as of late. Have they scored a touchdown, pass, with this one?

In the ad released in May, Wes Moss, labeled as a certified financial planner, says, "I don't know about you, but I don't have 30 grand laying around for music," claiming that since it costs one dollar to buy songs on iTunes, people will run out of money before they fill up that iPod. At least, the 120GB iPod classic they used in the ad.

[See ad with YouTube clip of commercial, linked via WIRED magazine's Gadget Lab posting by Charlie Sorrel]

Is this entirely true? Yes and no. It also depends on what iPod model the person has. But of course, who is going to use iTunes exclusively to completely fill their iPod? No one. Unless you're Donald Trump with money to burn.

So let's trump Microsoft's logic for a moment and take a trek down the road--using Spock's Vulcan logic, who would have most likely said that those folks in Redmond, WA are "highly illogical"--to see what other avenues are available to fill up an iPod. Such as maybe the one you purchased this month as a gift for a graduate or dad.

Before the iTunes Music Store ever rolled along, the method of getting songs to your iPod was by using CDs to import tracks into iTunes where you could then connect your iPod to get music onto it. Surely anyone out there, more so dads than grads, has a bunch of CDs around the house with tons of music collections they can transfer.

If you buy music CDs in the store, it still costs you money to get them. But it doesn't cost you a dollar per track to buy the album. Same idea on iTunes. If you buy the complete album, you technically get "free" songs in the process for the price you paid.

And who buys each song individually to get the whole album? No one does. By the same token, people save money on music by not having to pay full price for an entire album of songs they don't want. Using the iTunes Music Store, you can buy just the songs you want. We all know that!

Using Microsoft's scheme against itself, there are music services out there--not ZunePass, thank you--that let you keep ALL your music should you decide to cancel service later on. One of these is eMusic. For the monthly subscription price, depending on your plan, you can rock on to more music than the subscription costs. And unlike ZunePass, the tunes live on in your iPod or Mac.

To quote Rolling Stone Magazine, which eMusic proudly plasters at the top of their site, "...Music fans are migrating to eMusic, the iTunes music store's cheaper, cooler cousin."

Granted, you won't find the same selections at eMusic that you'd find on iTunes--such as the latest and greatest/newest releases--but there are things that you can find on eMusic that don't appear at its cooler cousin. They even sometimes feature tracks that its cousin has and offer it for even less!

There's also Amazon mp3 downloads from, the internet retailer giant's own iTunes-like service that is fully compatible with iPods. Unlike eMusic however, Amazon mp3 downloads is not a subscription-based service, but--to coin the phrase, in a way, that Rolling Stone Magazine used--iTunes' wiser and smarter sibling.

How so? First, like iTunes, Amazon mp3 downloads offers songs per track or by album at comparable prices. Second, it also offers free tracks from time to time, which if you only did that--look for free songs--you would never have to spend a dime. (eMusic also offers 365 free songs, one per day, for downloading their toolbar).

But, the one thing Amazon has in its customers' favor is their first-day release sales where they sell complete album downloads for well below the retail price of a music CD, or what Apple charges for that matter. For instance, Green Day's "21st Century Breakdown" was only $4.99 for the entire album, almost 50% off. To be fair to Apple, iTunes does feature sale prices on select albums each week, just not first-day releases on albums.

Also, in order to use the music service, you must download Amazon's MP3 Downloader software (which is free), available for Mac and PC.

While Microsoft's ZunePass service may be cheaper at $14.99/month, and you get unlimited downloads, the caveat is? You only get to keep 10 songs each month. 10 songs for $14.99? At that rate, to use ZunePass to fill up your 120GB iPod classic, you'll be spending, let's see... oh my. $44,970.

One thing's for sure. That's one way NOT to fill up your iPod! Plus, It would take you 250 years to do so.

There are, of course, other avenues to getting your music, but they will not be shared here. To quote Apple's terms of service for iTunes, somewhere in there are three words. "Don't steal music."


Joe Leo begins his third year as a columnist for Power|'Book Central. His passion for writing, along with his extensive background in journalism and technology, are a perfect complement for this educator and professional freelance journalist based in San Francisco, CA.