Strong opinions, weakly held

My prediction for music DRM

It seems that the recent trend in the music industry has been to make tracks available without DRM but to snub Apple by refusing to allow them to sell the DRM-free tracks through the iTunes Music Store. I suspect that this is a sort of vigilante antitrust action by the record companies that they hope will enable them to recapture a bit of power relative to Apple.

Currently, there are a lot more DRM-free MP3s available for download through Amazon.com than there are through iTunes Music Store, and Sony’s catalog hasn’t been made available yet. It was supposed to be available from Amazon.com at the end of January, but it looks like they missed their date.

I suspect that once Amazon.com has captured a good chunk of the market, the labels will migrate their catalogs to iTunes Plus so that both sites can compete with one another on equal ground. In the meantime, they’re playing favorites to escape from the clutches of Apple. One thing that’s interesting to me is that Amazon.com is actually lowering the price of music downloads, I’m not sure where that fits into the labels’ plans.


  1. I can’t really tell if this is strategic vision or cutting their nose off to spite their face. wrt the stiff arm to Apple,

  2. If DRM does die and Amazon succeeds at gaining significant market share, will Apple abandon AAC in favor of MP3? That’s probably the biggest factor in me switching to Amazon for my music purchases. I want the music in MP3 format! TiVo doesn’t do AAC natively.

  3. Good question. I don’t think Apple is ever going to drop AAC, sadly.

  4. Don’t think of it as “Amazon has lower prices.” Think of it as “Amazon has signaled their willingness to engage in tiered pricing,” which is something the record labels have wanted from Apple since day 1.

  5. I really can’t figure out why they are doing this. Any way you look at it, it’s bizarre.

    First you’ve got the fact that the inconvenience of DRM has always been sold to consumers as a necessary evil to stop casual filesharing, and yet now they’re directly selling freely shareable mp3s on one service, DRM’d on another. (And let’s not forgot CDs which may or may not be legal to rip depending on who you ask). But that’s just standard-issue hypocrisy.

    But now it appears that they are now using DRM to ‘hurt’ Apple by forcing them to sell tracks that, drumroll please…., only work with iTunes and Apple iPods! Is this not the very “lock-in” that people have been carrying on about? Was this not Apple’s evil plan all along, even though they connivingly pretended to want to sell unencumbered music and compete on product quality?

    In the strange world of the label’s digital strategists, they are obviously hoping that music fans will find their music on iTunes (which came with and works very well with their iPod), realise that they are one of the labels that don’t offer DRM free tracks on iTunes and then, instead of buying some other label’s DRM-free tracks from iTunes, or ripping their friends CD, or downloading the track illegaly, will instead navigate their way through the maze of download services offering non-iPod/iTunes compatible music and find their way to Amazon to buy unencumbered mp3s.

    And what is the big selling point of unencumbered mp3s (for the average man on the street, rather than say, Mark Pilgrim). What is it that (in their own words) made eMusic the second biggest digital music retailer:

    iPod compatability!

    I just can’t see how this is going to have enough material effect on anything to provide any leverage over Apple. If anyone can provide a logical chain of events that puts the ball back in the iTunes DRM holdout label’s court?

  6. Apple won’t drop AAC – it’s just an encoding scheme, and Apple believes it’s a superior one. It can be used with or without DRM (i.e. iTunes Plus or I can rip my CDs to AAC format). Dropping it is as likely as Apple dropping Quicktime for WMV.

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