Australians have long been charged a music tax just for living in a land far, far away from America, and while the net has brought us all closer, it still hasn’t changed the price we’re charged. Overseas, though, Amazon has cut the cost of digital music, so how can you take advantage?
We’re not going to sit here and judge why people pirate, but we suspect that if people had the opportunity to pay for goods without knowing they were being overcharged, they probably would.
Music is an example of this. When this writer used to live in America – before he moved back in 1999 – CDs were a good example of an area where Australians were overcharged. While you could find a disc in an American CD store for $15, its equal would cost around twice that.
Fast forward over a decade later and not much has changed. In fact, while CD prices have dropped, it seems Australians are being charged a larger sum for the digital equivalent.
An example of this is a CD we went shopping for recently. We’re firm believers in digital downloads having good prices, and yet we’re constantly surprised by the often high ticket price that e-tailers slap on electronically supplied music.
We were buying The Glitch Mob’s “Drink the Sea,” which is a change from the regular supply of jazz and rock we normally buy, but hey, we’re into it at the moment.
In any case, looking for the disc online has found several prices. The e-store staple that is iTunes charges $16.90. Telstra’s BigPond Music is a little cheaper again with $15.35, and then Google Music appears to be the best deal for $14.99.
Meanwhile, a physical CD appears to sit around the $21.99 mark, so at least iTunes – the most expensive of the lot – is at cheaper on this one.
But then there’s Amazon’s MP3 store, which isn’t available in Australia, and yet at the time of writing, was selling the electronic version of the disc for $5.00.
Even with our declining dollar, $5 USD translates to just below $5.50, so that’s a saving of around $10. Not too bad.
Unfortunately, Amazon never opened its stores to Australia for the purchase of MP3s.
Oh sure, we can purchase books, clothing, appliances, and pretty much anything else including a physical music CD or piece of vinyl, but electronic music is a no go.
It’s sad too, because all we want is a bit of equality in music pricing. But what if there was a way?
We’ve written about Hola several times before this, but for those people who don’t want to go exploring our old articles, Hola is a plugin made for Firefox and Chrome (sorry IE and Safari) that cuts the geographic lockout Australians are stuck behind for various services around the web.
It was originally developed to work with Pandora’s music streaming service and the TV on demand available from Hulu, but a few weeks ago, the developers of Hola opened the system to support scripts made by other people who found a way to dodge the geographic locks on other sites.
One of these is Amazon.
With the Amazon Hulu script switched on, the geoblock which Amazon uses doesn’t appear to block us, and we’re able to purchase music.
You won’t be able to use an Australian credit card, though, as Amazon is a little too smart for that.
You can, however, purchase a gift card on Amazon, email it to yourself (yay, a gift for yourself!) and then use that code. With money credited to yourself directly into Amazon, you can use that credit to purchase music on the online store.
Credit card use – and geoblock – evaded.
Once purchased, the music can be downloaded using Amazon’s MP3 downloading program, which downloads its own filetype (.amz) and when opened, tells the downloader where to get the files.
Downloads from Amazon’s service aren’t guaranteed to be less expensive, mind you, but much of what appears on the American service does seem to change pricing all the time. Quite a few of the discs we were interested in buying came from a variety of genres and appeared to be less expensive through the service.
We’re not sure how long this method will stay active, though, as we’re sure Amazon will be keen to return the geographic lock to its rightful place of working to keep us out.
At the moment, geo-unblocking services are constantly working to make sure they do their job and get around the world locks in place, and there could be a time when Amazon works out what Hola is doing and returns the lock, blocking us in the process.
It’s likely to be a constant game of cat and mouse, and Hola will probably go to work re-unlocking the service when that happens.
Hola isn’t even the first to do this, with so many unblocking services out there, including Unblock Us, Tunlr, TunnelBear, SurfEasy, Blockless, StrongVPN, HMA, and countless others.
Ultimately, the best solution would be to have Amazon come to an agreement with local music suppliers and release its MP3 albums to Australians, but the availability of other geographic evasion technologies practically tells you that if Hola does ever get cut off from this service and Amazon doesn’t cut a local deal, at least you have a few other places to turn to.
UPDATE (June 25, 2015): An update to this article comes as an alert if you plan on using Hola for getting around geoblocking, as it has been found the extension and service was doing some less than honest things with its users’ bandwidth, turning it into a botnet that could be used for denial of service attacks or other possibly nefarious purposes.
This isn’t a good thing, and so if you plan to use Hola, tread carefully and be aware your information may be used for not so friendly purposes. If you still need a VPN, consider paying for access to one instead of relying on Hola.