Supporting DRM-Free Music

My fear is that if the Amazon MP3 store continues to grow in popularity it may begin to marginalize the iTunes store, once the word really gets out that it offers songs at better quality for the same or cheaper price and with no DRM.

Why does that scare me? Not because I think DRM will come back; I don’t think that will happen. But because I fear that the labels will have the power to raise prices at their will, which gets us right back to where we were with physical CDs (which have no DRM, remember?): the record labels have complete control of the price. Steve Jobs is a great negotiator, and I wonder if some clause about price control isn’t already written into the Amazon contract.

if that happens of course that means we’ll go back to trading MP3s again, which - let’s face it - is a reality we’d resort to if pushed, but not one we’d like to have to embrace again. I don’t think the labels have learned anything and are just in the midst of trying to get control.

The only way to compete with iTunes is on price and quality; the labels can’t stop the iPod from being the best music player and thus iTunes being the most convenient. But if iTunes becomes sufficiently marginalized, they can tear up those contracts completely without losing much and then get to work on recovering all the “lost profits” from selling all those songs to Amazon at such a “steep discount”.

I have been voting with my wallet also. I’ve already purchased more music from Amazon than I did from Apple.

Die DRM Die!

Hmm, well sure, except for your factual errors. You don’t mention (although commenters do) that Apple sells DRM free music on the iTMS. You don’t mention that Apple provides a mechanism to remove the DRM on FairPlay tracks (albeit via a fairly invloved and time consuming process of burning them back to CD Audio format). So basically, just another opportunity to bash Apple based on… what? I’m sorry Jeff, your argument would fail if you mentioned these facts. You are either unaware (in which case why write an article without researching it fully?) or deliberately misleading your readers.
I’m not arguing that Amazon isn’t a better source of DRM free music, It may well be. I don’t know, I live outside the US. But it is incumbent upon you to get your facts straight. If you had taken these facts into account, how different would this post have to be? I enjoy reading your articles, but it looks to me like your bias against Apple is actually affecting your judgement. Whenever you write about them, you look uninformed.

A sound engineer I met in Vancouver, B.C. in 2005 gave me his version of the lowdown on Apple’s relationship with the major recording labels. It was sheer venom on the part of the labels he said, because Apple was essentially setting their famous 99 cent price, and then telling the labels how much of that 99 cents they’d get! The labels were powerless to set their own prices in the face of iTune’s success. He cited this as the reason that movie downloads were not going to end up available on Apple’s site in the same manner as the music, as the studios were not looking forward to handing pricing controls over to a vendor in the same way that the music labels had.

If that’s in any way true (and it sound about right), it wouldn’t be surprising that in 2008 that the recording industry would be happily handing Apple the shortest end of the stick that they could afford to.

I’m another one who would love to welcome his new Amazon music store overlords… if they had any plans to serve customers outside the USA. That makes me collateral damage for the stupid anti-competitive games being played by the record labels.

Jeff, your post tries really, really, really hard to seem like you’re being even-handed about Apple and about Braithwaite’s post, but there seems to be a good deal of hostility toward Apple lurking beneath the reasonable surface. Ironically, your post seems to be emotionally involved with Apple (albeit negatively) despite your protestations to the contrary.

Also, I think you misrepresent the Braithwaite post as somehow presenting an emotional position about Apple. I read all of Braithwaite’s post, and didn’t think at all that it was whining that Apple is being treated “unfairly” (your word, btw, which doesn’t exist anywhere in the post). It’s a given that Apple leads the market and are making some pretty good profit from the current, mostly-DRM’ed iTunes store. But as a highly user-centric organization, Apple would much rather not have to dump the encumbrances of DRM on their users. It’s the labels that have insisted on the DRM lock-down from day 1 of iTunes’ existence, and now the labels are trying to leverage this against Apple. Which they are legally allowed to do (all’s fair… etc.). But I have no doubts that if Apple were allowed dump DRM, they would do so in a flash. Steve Jobs has already publicly stated as much. And if this happened, then their competitors would have to compete based on UX, usability, AND price rather than just on price and lack of DRM. That seems to be the point of Braithwaite’s post, and not that poor, poor Apple is being mistreated and shouldn’t we pity them, etc etc.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe they’ve made quite the handsome profit along the way, too.

As far as iTunes is concerned, Apple makes little profit. They consider it a loss-leader for selling iPods, which is where the handsome profit is.

Apple is selling some movies on iTunes for less than the studios charge them, simply to maintain their consistent pricing policy.

Have to disagree with you Jeff…

Enjoy the return of DRM if iTunes goes down due labels not offering Apple the same opportunity to compete :slight_smile:

Seriously, I’m surprised you can’t see this is a classic bait and switch by the labels, if you don’t think so, you’re naive and a little misguided in your enthusiasm.

The problem with ITMS’ DRM is that it’s not aimed at protecting authors (and labels) but rather aimed at helping Apple sell more iPods!

As long as I can’t listen to the music I buy on my USB-aware car radio, iTMS is a no-no.

There is one good thing about iTunes (and the iPod): It does not require the iTunes Store or DRM at all. I am playing my music with iTunes at home and on my iPod outside, and yet I don’t have to deal with DRM, because I bought the music elsewhere. Personally, I prefer physical media, as they act as a sort of external backup device. I rip the CDs into iTunes and play the music there. It works without any hassle, without any DRM etc. I have never bought a single piece on the iTunes Store. :wink:

I’d be buying music from Amazon if I could, but unfortunately it’s limited to the US which is really annoying for me as an Irishman. We seem to get access to things like the iTMS far later than other countries (which is why I have a US iTunes account), due to licensing agreements etc. Pain in the ASS.

At the moment, I buy from eMusic if I can, then from iTunes if that option isn’t available. Then from Amazon for the really annoying stuff you can only get on CD :frowning:

I’m gonna miss the cds.
The thrill of tearing off the plastic of a newly bought cd and popping it in for a sonic bliss. The artwork.
Too bad not many of these online retailers offer flac(lossless audio).
I’m gonna miss the cds.

You see, the only problem with Amazon (compared to iTMS) for me is that it isnt available in Australia (i think) and it isnt integrated nicely with iTunes.

I understand the last one isnt really a valid point, but that is really were i dont like it. I like the iTMS pretty much because i only need to hit ‘purchase’ and the song is bought, added to my iTunes library and synced to my iPod next time i plug it in.

Maybe some polish readers will find this info useful:
I buy my music for 1 grosz (= 1 cent) up to 99 grosz (= 99 cents) per mp3 of Polish startup bands at No DRM, no politics - just music.

You can also freely browse and listen to all the music there, no 30s limitations.


if iTunes goes away
if iTunes goes down due

Do you honestly believe this is, in any possible universe, a realistic outcome? It’s absurd.

As far as iTunes is concerned, Apple makes little profit.

"By Billboard’s calculations, iTunes turned a profit in 2007 with $1.9 billion in revenue and a 30 percent profit margin"

I have no doubts that if Apple were allowed dump DRM, they would do so in a flash

Really? Odd, then, how OS X requires specific hardware to run. That’s one bit of DRM they seem quite willing to carry forward.

competitors would have to compete based on UX, usability, AND price rather than just on price and lack of DRM

What “usability” and “UX” do I need from Amazon? It’s a website that lets me download MP3s. As Serge said, above, the DRM ends up protecting the iPod lock-in more than the artists or labels.

Huh, after buying about 50ish tracks from itunes in the past… after reading your blog entry I’m going to start buying from Amazon instead.

– Lee

“There’s absolutely no historical evidence that a type of media, once it is officially sold DRM free, can somehow revert back to the DRM model.”

Did the first CDs have DRM? Did more recent CDs have DRM?

  • I really like scandinavian metal music.

Well, there’s your problem, right there… :slight_smile:

I like this - and I have never bought from iTunes because it’s cheaper to buy the bargain basement CD (80’s or 90’s) by far, and the compression ratios suck. IPods sound fine through headphones but when you amplify them you need to put the bass and mid back in.

I do have a problem with Amazon, they’ve recently shafted small publishers that use publish on demand and tried to force them to use their (at least it used to be) 2nd rate POD service. Of course, when stuff arrives with upside down pages and missing pages it’s the publisher that gets the blame, not the crap POD.

I haven’t been following this, but I won’t buy from Amazon at the moment until they stop behaving like pigopolists.


You have a slightly blinkered view on things here. You have to remember that the Amazon music store is only available to people living in the US. (Is it available in canada yet??)

I live in the UK and I’ve tried buying songs from it and it just won’t let me. So I stay with iTunes Music Store. I don’t have a particular problem with iTunes or the DRM associated with it, I play my music on my pc and listen to it on my iPod.

The DRM for me, doesn’t get in the way, it is quite transparent, unlike the horrendous problems I used to have with the DRM used by Audible. That was an absolute nightmare.