After announcing earlier in the year that in partnership with EMI, Apple was to start selling DRM-free tracks on iTunes, today the company declared its ‘iTunes Plus’ store open for business. The ‘Plus’ of course refers to the fact that the songs offered will not only be without Digital Rights Management (DRM) — the technology that restricts what you can do with your music, such as how many copies you can make or which devices it will playback on — but also that they will be encoded at a higher audio quality, and cost 30 cents more per-track.
On the day of the announcement, the decision to introduce premium pricing left me less than impressed.
So let me get this straight. EMI is attempting to compete with piracy by charging more for the convenience that non-DRM’d tracks offer, under the guise of ‘higher quality’. This is a stupid strategy that I predict will have limited success. If this is to be the test case that proves that ditching DRM will invigorate the market place then I wish EMI (and the rest of the music industry) good luck — as they’ll surely need it.
However, since then my views have mellowed slightly with the news that Amazon will be launching their own DRM-free music store, and the fact that I don’t think it will be long before others join them. The net result I hope will be that pricing of DRM-free tracks becomes more competitive, and that this will help stimulate sales and put pressure on the other major labels to see sense and set their music free.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs appears to share my new-found optomism, and in the release is quoted as saying:
“We expect more than half of the songs on iTunes will be offered in iTunes Plus versions by the end of this year…”
To access iTunes Plus you’ll need to upgrade the software to the latest version. You can then start purchasing DRM-free tracks as they become available, or pay for the privilege of converting your previously bought songs into higher quality and DRM-free versions.