Review: Big Finish downloads service

Fingers crossed, I’ll be giving both Bride of Peladon and Catalyst a listen this week, which might mean I review them as soon as… next week.

However, I thought I’d draw your attention to a couple of things first. Number one is that Big Finish now has a podcast. It’s a little bit cringeworthy, but it’s worth listening to since you do get advance information and behind-the-scenes explanation. Most notable in that is the first podcast, in which Nick Briggs explains the rationale behind the pricing structure of the downloads service. Did you realise, for example, that the US pricing of downloads is about $7.99? If you can follow Nick’s reasoning for that in comparison to the £12.99 charge for the UK (which appears to amount to “they’ve been paying over the odds for ages now, so now it’s the UK’s turn”), you’re a smarter person than I.

It’s also got a blog (of sorts. Guys, have you heard of comments? Permalinks?) which occasionally turfs up a bit of news, too.

I’m also producing the next run of Doctor Who Companion Chronicles, which has been a fantastic experience. I’ve chosen the companions and the writers and come up with eight (yes eight – you heard it here first) stories that I hope will please others as much as they please me. Oooh, I wish I could reveal more. I wish I could tell you who is flying into the country in May to return as a character that was such a pivotal part of my childhood but, sadly, for now you have to guess. Likewise I can’t reveal which one star from the last series is coming back this year.

Let the guessing on that one begin.

Over the weekend, I decided to give the downloads service a try, just to let you all know what it’s like. Here were my experiences…

Before you can buy anything from the site, you need to set up an account. This was all pretty easy. No complaints there.

Getting hold of downloads rather than CD versions isn’t that hard, provided you’re paying attention: you tend to end up on the CD page rather than the downloads page if you’re not careful and the download you’re buying will have the same cover as the CD, so always look at the price and description before buying.

Once you’ve paid for the download (again quite easy), it gets added to your account so you can keep downloading it, I presume. Click on the link and you get a Zip archive of the downloads. A two-CD download comes to about 128MB so you’ll need a proper broadband connection.

Each CD is broken down into its individual tracks as MP3s, so if you want to turn them into iPod audiobooks or similar, you’ll need to use something like Join Together, Bit rate encoding is reasonable enough at 160kbps, although the delightful Big Finish podcast says music tracks will be encoded at high rates. None of the tracks had cover art embedded in their headers.

One big issue is that none of the CD extras were in the archive, despite being mentioned on the downloads page. I’ve emailed Big Finish about this, but have yet to hear back. I’ll let you know what they say (if they say anything). Also absent was any digital equivalent of the usual CD fare, such as PDFs of the cover, booklets, etc.

All in all, pretty good technically. Not quite state of the art, but the choice of MP3 rather than WMA is excellent.

All the same, the lack of CD extras or anything else is a sore point that makes the downloads version less appetising than the CD version, which is only £2 more expensive. Plus the fact that if you buy the CD version from Big Finish directly, you’ll get the downloads version added to your account for free means that there aren’t any real downsides in terms of having to wait for the play to arrive with the CD version any more. Amazon discounts on plays will also remove Downloads’ one main advantage.

If you’re looking to avoid a whole load of clutter in the house, don’t care about extras and want to save yourself a couple of £2, I guess it will appeal. Otherwise, the CDs will be more appealing to most UK buyers, I suspect.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

    View all posts