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Thursday, April 05, 2007

The EMI/iTunes Thing.

I'm sure you've heard about it by now, but if not, EMI is going to be the first label selling music without rights restricting DRM on the iTunes music store. They're also finally bumping the bit rate up to a more acceptable (but still not idea, that would be Apple Lossless or equal) bit rate. Oh, and they're charging you 30 cents more a track for the privilege.

In this deal, EMI gets to look cutting edge for being the first of the big four to lose DRM and Steve Jobs gets to look like the knight in shining armor because he gave this big anti-DRM speech recently. While I agree losing DRM is a win for consumers, I think when you look at this deal, it has a lot less to do with pleasing consumers and a lot more with business as usual.

Take Jobs for instance. Though there's a bit of revisionist history at work, Apple wasn't always anti-DRM. In fact, they've told labels who specifically asked to sell DRM-free music they couldn't. Why did this guy who, up 'till recently, had no problem with right restricting software suddenly have a change of heart?

Sure, it's possible Steve's had a change of heart. However, I think it might have something to do with not wanting to fight for DRM all over Europe. Norway already has smacked FairPlay down, Italy is going that way too. Same with France and Germany.

Pardon me for being cynical, but you have something that ties users to your specific product (and Jobs' figures on iTunes music store purchases vs. iPod ownership are really skewed) why you'd want to voluntary change that, I could not imagine. The fact that Jobs, who is a majority shareholder in Disney, hasn't come out against video DRM, and is clearly in a position to do something about that from both sides of the purchasing chain, also makes me skeptical.

As for EMI, here's where people are missing the big picture. It doesn't cost them any extra to offer higher bit rate, non-DRM tracks, but they're getting 30 cents more a pop. The record industry has been trying for quite a while to charge more at the iTunes music store, but up until now Jobs has said no.

Now Jobs is in a bit of a bind over this DRM thing, which up to know has worked out well for Apple and the industry. Apple needs to ditch the DRM, the industry wants to charge more and we end up where we are now. A win/win for Apple and EMI. A partial victory for consumers.


Ryan said...

I'm intrigued by your views, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

I'd agree that it doesn't take more money to convert to higher bit-rates, but they might try to justify it with hosting expenses - bigger files, etc. Seeing as how web storage is dirt cheap, that would be a lame excuse, but still . . .

I'd like to see this as the inevitable turn towards DRM-free media, but I can see them taking their sweet time and milking it along the way.

Rob G. said...

Yeah, the hosting thing is the only excuse I can think of for a rate increase. Even then, eMusic has been doing higher bit rate DRM free mp3s for years now and they cost about a quarter each!

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one out there who find the concept of high quality .mp3s hilarious? I can understand the reasoning behind it, but you're still trying to make a high quality version of something that's low quality to begin with.

When I first heard about this, I just assumed that this was just a gimmick to get ahead of the competion in sales. However, your Europe theory sounds makes more sense as a long term goal.

-Atomic Mystery Monster