The Status of Personal Collection

Last year we all sat and scratched our heads about the way ahead. I came to the view that we'd drop the personal collection aspect of our work essentially with effect from New Year 2018. Well, that's proved harder than I expected so here's an update.

Towards the end of 2017 it became evident that clients were keen to hang on to the collection option. I explained to callers about what was in the pipeline and how they could use our service at just 50p per CD provided they mailed their CDs to us. For a large number of people that worked pretty well. However there was a "hard core" for whom it wasn't going to work. Quite reasonably they said they'd be keen to go ahead immediately given the curtailment in 2018.

That's where we ran into issues. Sure, we can rip a lot of CDs but we couldn't schedule the number of collections / returns and handle all that ripping before father Christmas arrived. We ended up slipping collections into this month (January, 2018). No great problem, what's a few days between friends.

Another issue was the
podSERVE website which I hadn't edited to show no collection 2018. Just too busy.

Then there were the referrals. People passed on the message and clients popped up saying if the collection option was ending soon they'd like to go ahead now.

Put that all together and here we are, mid January 2018, and we're still collecting "in person" despite planning to cease. Whilst I'm pretty happy to have the business it is impacting on the other things I'd like to do or need to do. In an attempt to square the circle we're letting collection / return run but we've upped the collection threshold to 250 CDs and a service fee of £25. Today I've broke three clients on this basis, they're all happy as they have reasonably large collections. I've explained about the 50p option, they've considered it but nonetheless they'd prefer to pay the premium for collection.

Where do we go from here? I'm still keen to move to the all mail model. It's me that does the driving, lugging boxes here and there, climbing the stairs and I'd just rather not do all that. The pressure is there to get to the post but it's taking a little longer than we'd planned.

Oh yes, buy now while stocks past.

podSERVE - Personal Collection

We were one of the first CD ripping services to launch in the UK. It took a while to find our feet but things really took off when we offered to collect / return clients CDs in person. That's what we've been doing all these years.

As with all good things, personal collection is coming to an end. In December.

Exactly when I've yet to decide but the message is clear, if any podSERVE clients are thinking, evaluating. cogitating, prevaricating, hesitating or whatever - ACT NOW. Come 2018 or a few days earlier that option will no longer exist. There's more on the
podSERVE site.

Switching from collection to mail only is a bit of a gamble. As the grind of London traffic has got worse, as the standard of driving has plunged travel has become an unpleasant chore. Where once I could expect to be at a clients home in around an hour today you can get virtually nowhere in 60 minutes. Travel time has edged up to consistently two hours each way, making each project incur a traffic overhead of 8 hours.

Our clients are now working longer hours. When we began most evening collections were in a 18:00 - 18:30 window. This has crept out to 19:00 or 19:30. I'm no longer shocked when people ask for a collection at 20:00 (which gets me back home at around ten in the evening). Can you do Saturday mornings? How about Sundays? I think I could spend all my time driving.

Being selfish we feared revenue would fall away if we didn't collect in person. Over the last few months we've been offering people a choice between personal collection and mail based, albeit at lower cost. Whilst many people have chosen to press ahead with the more expensive option there are numbers of clients who have taken the alternative. Indeed this last week we've had over 2,000 CDs mailed to us, more than have been collected. I know how many hours that has saved me on the M25, how many fewer sojourns in McDonalds, how many fewer hours spent praying for the next set of lights to be green.

As of today there's a choice. We're still open to collection and happy to drive over to you - daytime or evening. But if you want that collection and mailing doesn't work for you, act fast, after December that option will be part of our history.

Pioneer XPD 100 Ripping

One of our clients on the mail based CD ripping service MP3 by Mail owns a portable music player made by Pioneer. He thinks its great and he's opted to use it to play his digital music in FLAC file format. Great. And he's used our service to create his digital music library. Great.

He loved the first batch of files we did for him. Great.

He sent in another batch to be ripped, great. We sent his files back. He rang, it isn't working. Not great.

The problem was that although all his first set of tracks showed up in the menu, not all of the second set was there. There appeared to be a random grabbing of some tracks while others were ignored. Very puzzling. After a little head scratching I made a suggestion of how he could address this using his computer. Major problems here, he doesn't have a computer, just the Pioneer player with its slot for SD cards. Which makes diagnostics and correction rather more tricky than I'd like it to be.

Now I'm happy to hold my hand up and say it's down to us to fix this, and we will, but in the absence of a PC at the client end, and him being 300 miles away, we're a little in the dark. Looking at the online Pioneer manual it might be that when you load music onto the SD card there's a process you need to go through to build the music database. This makes sense to me but the client says that all he's done is insert the card and away it goes, nothing more needed, so he's not inclined to start fiddling around with menu options.

My thinking is that the device has been defeated by the way we added the new files to the "old" SD card. All the first tracks were in one folder, the later CDs in another. I know from experience with car music storage systems this kind of thing can defeat a basic device. The Pioneer runs Android but how clever the music management software is I can't tell, and I don't have a spare XPD to play with. So what we've done is put all the new music onto a new SD card and that's going off to the client today. The music is entirely unstructured so I'm hoping that however smart or dumb the music player is, it can figure out a flat file structure.

Looking at the Pioneer manual online it seems there is a file sync program you can run on a PC but this isn't going to help our PC-less client. I'm pretty confident this will fix the issue, if not we do have a Plan B - just hope it doesn't come to that.

What does 500 CDs look like?

How do you feel about mailing CDs?

Well, some people over estimate the scale of the task. Certainly if you look at all your CDs in their jewel cases that's a huge amount of home real estate. Like most people one of the reasons you're thinking about this is to free up some space.

Actually it's much easier to mail CDs than people think - once they're out of their cases. You end up with a reasonable size box that doesn't cost a fortune to ship to us. Indeed 500 CDs came over earlier this week in this box for just £8 via one of the low cost internet carriers.

iTunes Match and Metadata

iTunes Match is (reasonably) popular, we've ripped collections for several clients who use this aspect of Apple's music portfolio.

If you're not familiar with it this enables you to backup your music collection to the cloud, namely Apple's various servers, then stream your music from there to other devices. The cost is pretty modest. Match is an early streaming service, you can pay more for the current option Apple is promoting which also gives you access to their music library. You could say Match is just your music, the new product is old plus new.

Why Match?

The name reflects the way the service operates. When you sign up iTunes scans your music library to find what you have and tries to match it with what they have in iTunes Music Store. If it finds two albums that are the same then it instantly gives you streaming access to the copy already on their servers. Even if you have a sub 256 kbps AAC format you get what Apple boasts is a better version. Key thing, no data upload is involved.

I imagine Apple are hoping the 80 - 20 rule applies, that 80% of your albums match what they have already meaning that only 20% needs the laborious process of uploading from your computer to their system.

Data Grooming & Match

As standard Apple's metadata is pretty average, which is why we developed our
Data Grooming facility. However if we were to go to all that trouble of improving the album name, artist details, composer names etc would there be any point if the Match process promptly over-writes it all when you try to sync? Looking across the web several people have said, in their experience, Match doesn't touch edited metadata. From my own tests it doesn't either.

I was very pleased when one of our clients was prepared to test this out with his Match account. We looked at a representative number of album names, composer fields and some other data which we knew might clash with Apple's which is taken from Gracenotes. Once uploaded he was able to confirm the modified metadata remained in tact, right down to us replacing Apple's preferred square brackets with ordinary round brackets.

So there. Conclusion - you can mix Match with great metadata via Data Grooming and end up with a smile on your face.