TAB – New iTunes Pricing and DRM Removal Questions

Like many users, I’m pleased that the labels are finally allowing Apple to sell music free of DRM copy protection. Given that the labels have allowed this for many other vendors (Amazon, Wal-Mart, Zune Store, etc.) I think they’ve been flirting with collusion on the iTunes store for a while anyway. 

What I’m happiest about is the higher quality — which I don’t think Apple would have needed permission for  – since Apple’s FairPlay DRM was pretty transparent anyway. Of my nearly 8,000 songs, about 200 of them are iTunes, most belonging to my daughter. The DRM has simply never been an issue since they play on every Mac and iPod device we have. I’m not even sure I’ll upgrade them, but a lot of that has to do with price, as we’ll see.

What I’m most curious about are the details and consequences of this deal as it pertains not just to Apple, but also the competion. Here are some questions I have…

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TAB – Norway and iTunes: The DRM War.

Norway has taken their two-year fight against iTunes and Apple’s FairPlay DRM to its next step, and will now ask the government to force Apple to open their iTunes music to other devices besides the iPod.

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Apple iPod, iTunes, and Music Subscriptions.

According to the Financial Times this is in the works.

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of this model, though assuming it’s optional it finally has a shot to succeed now that the largest and most popular online music store (and second-largest music store) would be offering it for those who want it.

My problems with this model are the same as I’ve always had; the fact that Apple may offer it isn’t likely to change any of it:

  • Renting music makes little sense to me. People listen to their favorite songs over and over (heck, AM and FM radio were built on that principle), not so with most movies or TV shows.
  • DRM, DRM, and more DRM. Heavy DRM is the only way this can be legitimately pulled off (certainly the only way the labels would agree to it, unless they’ve had a change of heart). Don’t expect the same “FairPlay” you have now. Move your tunes anywhere? Just burn a CD and re-rip tunes to remove DRM? I don’t think so.
  • Exploding media. Part of the above DRM requires a way to shut it off when the terms are not followed or expire. We don’t have details on this yet, but without the threat of such explosion the subscription model can’t really work.

So what can Apple do with this model that others can’t? How can they make it successful where others have failed? I can think of some reasons:

  • The Ecosystem. One reason for potential success is the same reason for which they’ve had success with the current model. The iPod/iTunes system just works. Phenomenally well. Hundreds of million of people are already familiar with it and trust it.
  • The Process. Likely Apple would implement it so that getting your tunes under this model is about as easy as downloading their free track of the week now. Just select and download. No new process to learn. No new software or hardware to use, etc. People might make the move from owning to renting just because it’s so easy to try it.
  • The Price. Nokia’s similar model costs them $80 per headset. If Nokia and the labels figure the headset will be swapped after two years (the average) that’s $3.33 a month for all you can rent. Apple’s allegedly offering only $20, so even if you swap iPods every two years that’s only 83 cents a month for all you can rent. Less than the price of one one single right now!

Would I sign up for the subscription model? I’d need a lot more details first. How long does it last, what are the limitations, what’s the cost, etc. If my guess that Apple could pull it off nearly seamlessly for any iPod/iTunes users is correct, then I’d certainly consider trying it.

I like owning my music, and have never even considered renting ever since I got burned by Music Match back in ’00 or whenever when a track I paid 99 cents for wouldn’t even play when not connected to the Internet.

My guess is that if I the rental model was cheap enough, then I’d use it as a “preview”, and still buy the albums I really like. I almost use eMusic in that capacity right now. At only around $2.50 an album (with no DRM) I’m less worried about “wasting” money on a bad album. For something even less than that I would broaden my range, continuing to buy the music I really love.

Finally, one thing occurs to me. In these negotiations, I wonder if Apple is telling the labels something like this: “Look, you’ve claimed iPods are full of pirated music anyway, and you’ve claimed you want a piece of that action. We’re offering you $20 per iPod (we sell over 10 MILLION of these things each QUARTER) and simply legitimizing what you say all our owners are doing anyway. Don’t quibble with us about it; put up or shut up!” If Apple is not telling the labels this, they should be.

What do you think? Is Apple considering this? Would you join a subscription service?

[UPDATE:] There are still no real details available yet (heck, the whole thing is unconfirmed rumor at this point), but some rumored details are floating in. Ah, yes, streaming only. Maybe you can keep 50 tracks a year. That would hardly be the transparent model I alluded to above. And, no, I personally wouldn’t be interested in such a model.