By Paula Dilullo of Evolver.fm.
As part of our series on how hard it is to collect music these days (scroll down on that page), we now set our sights on Murfie, an iOS and Android app that takes a new approach to uniting the music collection. This unique snowflake of a service targets people who still own CDs, but want to play all that stuff on their smartphones and tablets without ripping it all. On top of that, it lets you sell your CDs, which you might have already ripped.
Imagine how you feel as you approach a used record store, assuming you can still find one. You walk through the doors to hear music playing over the speakers, chosen by the too-cool connoisseur behind the counter. After you meander through aisle after aisle, you arrive at your favorite genre or artists, flip through a while, and and hopefully snatch a deal.
If this sounds like you, Murfie‘s acknowledgement of the cloud-based world we now live in and the brick-and-mortar one we’re leaving behind could be a fit. It’s a music-buying, -selling and -trading service whose digital downloads are accounted for by physical CDs stored at their facilities, sort of like how currency used to be tied to a gold standard. You can stream everything in your collection using the apps.
CD collectors can send their music into Murfie with a kit that used to be free, but now costs $1 per CD (updated). After that, they can set prices for the stuff they want to sell, giving Murfie a 30 percent cut of each purchase.
For free (updated), Murfie will stream you your CD collection (who needs those racks that once made you look cool in the ’90s?). If you conduct 12 transactions per year, you no longer have to pay the storage fee, after that first year.
It uploads whatever you send, and within two weeks you’ll have access to your whole collection online. You can also add to your collection by browsing the site, which feels reminiscent of aisle meandering as you click from genre to genre, tempted by the low price tags for complete albums.
Once your collection is there, you can sell what you don’t want, trade it for stuff you do want, or shop other users’ collections. If you buy something or trade for it, you can choose to receive the actual CD by mail (for an extra $2 above the list price), or just leave the CD at Murfie and stream the songs to your phone or tablet.
Some things to consider:
1) None of the money you spend on Murfie appears to go to artists, labels, publishers, or songwriters (as with used CD stores), which makes the New York Times’ claim that the service is “virtuous” a bit debatable.
In its defense, Murfie tells Evolver.fm, “New CDs make up a significant fraction of Murfie sales, where traditional royalty payment flows apply. Also, artists and record labels have shops on Murfie where they sell their own CDs directly to members.”
2) Also similarly to brick-and-mortar used music stores, the selection on Murfie can be somewhat random, with holes all over the catalog. Even if you like Murfie, it can’t be your main music app, unless you buy everything you want to hear on CD.
3) According to the New York Times 2011 article, Murfie is an environmentally progressive service that stops CDs from ending up in landfills. Send your CDs to Murfie, and at least they may be heard again.
4) Couldn’t you just buy an album, pay the extra $2 bucks to receive the actual CD, rip it, and then turn it around for resale again? Nope. Murfie used to impose a 30-day restriction on turning around CDs, but now it has banned that entirely (updated). Also, if you download tracks from an album you own on Murfie, you can no longer sell the CD.
Update: A Murfie spokeswoman clarifies, “The case you’ve described about purchased CDs getting physically delivered to customers and then sent back to Murfie and re-sold is really an edge case for us. People in the biz (including us) obsess about all the edge cases, but physical deliveries make up a very small part of all our sales activity, and we have not yet seen any of those purchases subsequently shipped back to Murfie. If it were to become an abused loophole, we’d certainly close it. It’s simply not happening right now.”
5) Murfie is hoping to expand to records, comic books, and eBooks.
6) If you are the type to appreciate these things, Murfie accepts BitCoin and lets you download in FLAC.
Overall, as of July 2013, we find that Murfie offers a competent, modern service that’s worthwhile if you’ve made it this far without ripping and selling your CDs, or if you’re looking for bargains on streamable, downloadable, or CD music — and you don’t mind an app that contains only a limited percentage of your overall music collection.