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Apple and EMI Sell DRM Free Music


April 2, 2007 05:32 PM PST

Apple DRM

Apple and EMI agree to sell tracks that are DRM-free online. EMI can sell them independently in any format, and Apple will charge a $0.30 premium for the DRM-free tracks ($1.29 per track) in AAC format.

Initially, the thought was that Steve Jobs' Thoughts on Music essay was the catalyst to this deal, but it's now coming out that EMI wanted to do this independently. Regardless, it's an interesting move that deserves discussion. Since we never got around to discussing Jobs' essay, feel free to bring that in too.

Comments (6)

Paul, April 2, 2007 10:39 PM:

Some thoughts... increased sound quality + no DRM + same price per album will likely mean that I'll start buying music with iTunes. However:

Single track downloads priced at $1.30 means that the record industry is trying to protect their older business model of selling complete albums, which remain the same $9.99 price. This sort of makes sense, since musicians don't rent a studio, hire a producer, etc per track, but for a set of songs.

I think that this model is bad for consumers though, since so many albums have 1-2 good songs and 8-10 filler tracks. There are bands where this doesn't apply, but I'm guessing that if you analyze iTunes sales, most are single tracks. The market doesn't want to pay for filler.

Keeping the price of single tracks at $1 makes better music: the musicians will stop writing filler since it won't sell and they have to pay for the cost of recording it. Musicians will not be able to count on having one good song to drive the sale of a $15 CD, so all their work will have to be good.

Actually, I don't know why Apple doesn't just cut the music industry out entirely and make iTunes a record label that deals directly with the artists. Even if the musician's cut of the iTunes price is 50%, that is, like 5 times more than what they get now.

Technology makes things more efficient, and cutting out the recording industry middlemen seems like a good thing, but pricing singles at $1.30 is still abusing customers and not giving them what they want.

One other thing that I'd like is the ability to re-download any material that I've bought. Since Apple has my email address and credit card information, they know exactly what I've bought. Xbox live lets you do this with content that you purchase, but that may be more because of the small hard drives in the Xbox and the fact that you can't copy data between the Xbox and PC.

John, April 2, 2007 11:27 PM:

It is a shame that it is being released in AAC format not MP3, but DRM free means you could convert it no problem - although you lose quality. For me the format has to be mp3. I have too big an investment (equipment) in that format to change now.

This is a very good first step though. I'm sure that this will put pressure on the other labels when EMI DRM free musics sells take off. Money talks.

Its good that it is not going to be specific to iTunes. Eventually they will sell music though other stores and you can buy them in the bit rate and format of your choice including wma, mp3, aac, and other formats.

Apple will let you upgrade your existing EMI songs to DRM free for .30. DRM tracks are 1.29 a piece instead of 1.00, but the Album prices is the same. Hmm. Since EMI still plans to sell the DRM versions, does this mean that you'll be able to choose DRM or non-DRM albums for the same price? Why would anyone do that?

I still feel that 1.30 a track is rip off. But I also don't think $1 per track is a good deal either. I think that once all the other record companies are forced to go DRM free also, then maybe the market dynamics will take over and we'll see prices lower.

Funny thing... it seemed to me that the timing of Job's anti-DRM essay was done so that he could take 'credit' for this. Interesting that it has already came out that the EMI decision happened a long time ago. As I recall most people speculated that Job's essay was a response to a curent lawsuit with some country or another claiming that the current iPod + iTunes combo unfairly locks other out.

As for Apple as a music label... That is about the same as Microsoft selling their own PC hardware. Apple is walking a very fine line with the record and movie companies. They are trying to convince those guys that online sales are a good thing, that they should use iTunes (in some cases exclusively) and that they should stick with a fixed pricing scheme. If Apple even hinted at competing with them directly, I think things would fall apart very fast.

Cutting the record labels out of the path is inevitable however. The Web is the great equalizer. All that is really missing for an Indie artist is marketing / word of mouth. I think a 'YouTube' of Indie music videos would solve that problem.

I bought a CD this weekend (I hate doing that, for every dollar I give RIAA some poor 7 year old will be sued). I would have rather purchased it online, it would have saved me a trip. When I came home, I ripped the disc and threw it in a box. I'll never touch that disc again, unless I lose the mp3s.

Sniffy, April 3, 2007 09:32 AM:

John said, "I bought a CD this weekend..." Are you still working on completing your Michael Bolton collection?

John, April 3, 2007 09:36 AM:

Ahh you mock me. For my money there's nothing better than 'When a man loves a woman.'

Seriously though, I bought a CD that was actually produced in this decade - you should try that sometime.

John, April 3, 2007 09:44 AM:

I'm not trying to be pessimistic, but I wonder if the DRM free music will be stamped with a finger print or a watermark. Not that there is anything wrong with that, just curious.

Paul, April 3, 2007 11:05 AM:

I believe that iTunes watermarks the MP3s that your rip from CDs. If you right click on a song in iTunes and select "Get Info" and look at the comment field for that track, it's usually empty. If you look at that same file's comment field in Winamp, there is some kind of GUID or something.

Now, the MP3 ID3v1/2 tag "specs" are largely de facto so it's possible that this is simply not an issue, but it would be an interesting experiment to see how well correlated those GUIDs are across a CD or user.

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