When Apple launched iTunes Plus, the company’s DRM-free music download service, last April, I was critical of the price increase from 99c to $1.29 per track, compared to their copy-protected equivalents. CEO Steve Jobs attempted to justify the premium pricing, based on the fact that music on iTunes Plus was encoded at a higher bit-rate of 256kbps (up from 128kbps). Yet I still felt that Apple in conjunction with EMI, the only major label to sign on, were in effect penalizing those who wanted to purchase music DRM-free, with all of their fair use rights intact.
Over at ZDNet, I wrote:
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.
That was over six months ago and things have moved on signifanctly. EMI have licensed its DRM-free music catalog to a plethora of download stores, Universal is experimenting with DRM-free downloads, albeit not on iTunes, and Amazon has rolled out a DRM-free music download service of its own.
It’s therefore no surprise to see Apple announce that they are slashing the price of tracks offered on iTunes Plus to 99c — the same price as their lower bit-rate DRM’d offering. And in typical Steve Jobs fashion, Apple claims its decision has nothing to do with Amazon or other competitors, but was taken based on the “popularity” of iTunes Plus.
Update: official Apple press release.