Supporting DRM-Free Music

You've probably read this classic boner of an iPod quote at some point:

It's from the Slashdot article on the introduction of the original Apple iPod back in 2001. I had always assumed this particular quote was written by a random Slashdot user in the comments. But in fact, that quote is part of the body of the news entry, and it came directly from Rob Malda, the founder of Slashdot.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Oh, oh, first!

Don’t forget iTMS also sells (some) DRM-free, high-bit-rate music.

Also, I didn’t read the Braithwaite post, but Firefox tells me the first appearance of the word “unfair” is one you wrote. In the pull-quote above that, you quote Braithwaite used the words “colluding” and “disadvantage”, but that doesn’t amount to the same thing.

Congrats on crossing the 100K readers mark.

I also think the DRM-free stores are great, but until there is licensing available outside of the U.S. or Canada then iTunes will be where I shop. I don’t have any friends in the states willing to share their credit card details, and Australia isn’t yet ‘hip’ enough to have dangerous goods like music digitally shipped to.

“Old Testament”? Why not Koran, Talmud, Mein Kampf, Homeland Securities Act, … WTF?

And if iTunes goes away, how long will amazon keep selling its DRM-free music for? Or will the record companies let the amazon contract lapse and it’s back to DRM-ville, but on amazon this time?

There’s also the recent unbelievably consumer-hostile death of PlaysForSure DRM. See the Dive into Mark post:

Most non techie customers have a happy go lucky worldview where they buy DRMed music and it just works. It just takes ONE technical failure that costs them a stupid dollar and they will instantly know everything they need to know about DRM. They’ll vote with their wallet and they’ll tell others to stay away from DRM.

DRM was doomed from a cryptology perspective, but it was also doomed from a business perspective because it subtracts value from products. No customer ever asked for more DRM.

The polish on modern iPods is just icing on the cake. An evolutionary improvement to the radical change the original iPod represented.

Before the iPod, portable music meant CD players, which meant you could have a convenient and portable player, or a wide variety of music to listen to, but not both. Then, suddenly, there was this magic THING that was the size of a deck of cards and could store most people’s entire music library. No swapping CDs, no scratched media – instead, something that was easy to carry with an intuitive interface that integrated cleanly with the best music library manager (this was all Mac-only back then).

I mowed lawns all summer long to earn enough money to get a 5 gig iPod for my brother. I ended up liking the iPod so much that I kept it for myself… But there is a happy ending – I helped my brother get a 10 gig a few months later.

I think Colen is on the mark and Jeff has missed the point.

The labels colluding with Amazon to produce an artificial competitive advantage and stopping Amazon and Apple competing on their merits is always going to be bad for consumers. Who cares about Apple.

I think the “unfair” bit refers to the fact that Apple presumably has to pay more per track and is, for all intents and purposes, forced to sell “inferior goods” (never mind whether they actually would choose to use DRM and enforce a vendor lock-in if given the choice).

I don’t know whether it’s legal or not, but I suspect it is. Just a case of one company negotiating a better deal than the other, technically. No ulterior motives at work there… :wink:

Ultimately, I agree with you. Fair or not, it’s an unusual case where the market is actually working in the best interests of the consumer. Plus, I have no love for the ITMS, and wish nothing more than to never have to touch it again. It sucked when I got one of the new iPods back when they came out and, due to new encryption, had to use iTunes to manage it. Thankfully, now MediaMonkey, WinAmp, et. al. are able to manage it, meaning iTunes need never sully my hard disk again.

Thanks so much for pointing this store out! I wasn’t even aware of the store’s existence. I’m tired of burning my tunes to disc then ripping them to mp3; I’ll definitely be shopping with Amazon from now on. Or with the likes of radiohead and nin. Check out nin’s brand-spanking new, free, and unencumbered album “The Slip”. (

DRM is the reason I’ve never purchased anything on iTunes. Until the Amazon mp3 store opened about 6 months ago, I was still buying CDs and ripping them to add to my collection. I know use the Amazon mp3 store on a regular basis.

Another good place to buy DRM-free mp3s is CD Baby is almost entirely indie stuff and has stuff you can’t find anywhere else. I think the artist sees more of the $$ from CD Baby, too–they give 91% of the digital sale directly to the artist. It’s a great way to support the artist directly.

I didn’t realize Amazon sold DRM free music. That could save me the headaches of taking the DRM off myself, however the free music from Ruckus is worth the headache I suppose. When I stop using Ruckus and if Amazon is still DRM I’ll convert. Personally I hate iTunes it is a resource hog and all round a pain to use.

iTMS sells music with DRM (though not all of it with DRM, sure, and Jobs vowed to remove the DRM as soon as the labels let him, which is something already).

Amazon MP3 is nothing short of amazing, but unlike iTMS it only works in the US. And like the rest of Amazon’s services other than the bookshop part, it shows no signs of going international anytime soon.


One thing I’ll say in Apple’s defense in this: I can buy a track from the iTunes store and legally share it with a couple of my friends. With plain vanilla MP3s, I can’t legally share it at all. My co-workers and I love to share our music collections with each other, but we want to do it legally. A bit of DRM seems to be the only way to do that at the moment. The license agreement for Amazon’s store, and for Apple’s DRM-free iTunes Plus, says no sharing. Period. I’m certainly no DRM advocate, but in this case, it is giving me something I can’t otherwise get.

Can you buy individual songs from Amazon?

But to argue that the competition is “unfair” smacks of the absolute worst kind of Apple advocacy. Unfair? Unfair to whom?

It’s unfair to customers who demand a market in DRM-free music. A market where potential competitors in this market not be excluded for arbitary reasons.

If any other company was being excluded from the DRM-free music market - would you also be OK with this?

Much maligned as Malda’s comment is, it doesn’t reveal how out of touch he is, it simply reveals which market segment he belongs too. Previous mp3 players with superior specs were branded for and marketed towards typical early adopting electronics consumers, ie geeks with a bit of disposable cash. They weren’t huge successes because that was a bad branding decision; those people are not huge music consumers and represent a small part of the market. Malda’s reaction to the product was almost inevitable, because the ipod wasn’t targeted at him, while a lot of other products were. Apple enjoyed huge commercial success because it made much better decisions than its competitors.

For everybody waiting to dismiss a product that may go on to see commercial success, there is somebody waiting to dismiss that person’s honest and accurate assessment…

i long for the day when amazon will sell mp3s outside the US. Until then there’s very few options (besides piracy) for non-ipod users outside the US.