More Musings on the Apple-EMI Deal for DRM-Free Content

Monday, 2007-04-16; 23:22:00

Well, we're only a few weeks from getting access to DRM-free music on the iTunes Store. (Let's hope Apple was talking about early May instead of late May.) With the announcement, Apple single-handedly satisfied the two major complaints that most people had about the iTunes Store: DRM, and low quality tracks. Come May, there'll be no reason not to buy your music from the iTunes Store, at least for EMI tracks.

(In case you were wondering, I am looking forward to the DRM-free content, despite the previous post regarding the announcement. Ahem.)

Let me be the first to say, "Damnit, Apple, you previously removed my hesitation between buying single tracks and buying whole albums with the recently-released Complete My Album feature, only to renew it with this new announcement." Why? Full albums on iTunes will be offered with no DRM at the higher quality at the same price as the current offering today. There's now perhaps even a stronger incentive to buy albums on the iTunes Store rather than singles. Grar.

What's interesting is the way that Apple has carefully navigated the path to DRM-free music. This compromise between Apple and EMI satisfies practically all the complaints that all parties had about the iTunes Store before:

Problem: the music groups wanted to be able to sell tracks on iTunes using a tiered-pricing strategy, offering some songs at a higher price. Solution: entice customers to burn through more of their money by offering higher-quality, less-encumbered tracks at a 20% higher price.

Problem: customers were complaining about the low quality of downloads. Solution: offer higher quality downloads, albeit at a slightly higher price.

Problem: customers will be pissed if they've purchased songs from the iTunes Store already when they wanted higher quality or no DRM. Solution: offer upgrades of any existing purchased tracks, for the difference in prices between the "standard" downloads and "premium" downloads.

Problem: EU nations were complaining about the iTunes Store not being interoperable with other music players. Solution: DRM-free interoperable downloads will be offered on the iTunes Store come May.

Problem: selling DRM-free music without all the labels on board would present an inconsistent experience to the customer. Solution: offer DRM-free music at a higher price, and keep the existing offering at the existing price. And give other labels a month to hop on board before going live with the DRM-free downloads.

Problem: labels and some high-profile artists were complaining about the "demise of the album". Solution: offer a strong incentive to buy albums by offering DRM-free, higher quality downloads for albums at the same price that DRM-encumbered, lower-quality album downloads go for today.

It's quite a deal, and quite a solution.

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