Living In A DRMless World

A few days after I posted my anti-Apple/DRM rant Steve Jobs wrote an open letter about DRM.

Basically, if Apple could sell music without DRM, they would. Jobs does not mention movies and TV shows, but I assume that, given a DRM-Less media outlet, they would be included.

Jobs attacks the argument of vendor lock-in by Apple, citing that, on average, most iPods have less than 3% of their music from the iTunes store. I honestly hadn’t thought about that, but he’s right. I have 13,650 total music tracks – 413 of which I purchased from iTunes (some I probably don’t even want, but were free singles). That’s just over 3% – maybe not a big deal. If the iTunes store had no DRM (and sold losslessly encoded music) I would probably have more. Still, if someone offered me a chance to live in a brand new totally ripped body at the expense of cutting off one of my little fingers, I would really think before taking them up on it.

So it’s apparent that Jobs is as much a fan of DRM as most of us are. He proposes no DRM. It makes perfect sense – why protect 10% of music sold when the other 90% isn’t protected? But also, why use DRM on tracks from labels that don’t mind if you have DRM or not? Maybe there actually is a technical reason why.

Since he’s very clever by playing the victim, and now has every rabid Apple fan campaigning to the big record labels, maybe Jobs will get his wish and a year from now the digital music scene will be VERY different. But what would a digital music market be like without DRM?

Piracy Doesn’t Change

Recordings are now leaked from iTunes as well as from CDs. Does this really matter? No, except maybe for the rare recordings that you weren’t going to buy anyway.

Now It’s A Format War

It’d be MP3 vs. AAC vs. WMA vs. OGG vs. etc. And the service you use would still rely on what your player can read. Smart record companies would try to use a file format that’s generally accepted (MP3). Smart player and software developers may want to try opening their own stores to take advantage of exclusives. No DRM, but you’d STILL not be able to play WMA tracks in iTunes OR on an iPod. Use a file format that doesn’t work on the iPod means shooting yourself in the foot.

Business Models

Without DRM how would “All You Can Eat” subscription services work? How would they enforce their restrictions? I believe DRM dictates if you have permission to play a track from those services. Maybe without DRM you can use inherent file properties to grant/deny playback permission. I don’t know – DRM may still be needed just for that. In most cases, a la carte services would win.

An Influx of Innovative Stores…? Really?

In a really funky way, DRM gives a feeling of a perceived value and credibility. Most users only use DRM based services. Yes, because they’re the most popular and they have the major label music. Any store without DRM doesn’t get a second look. They lack the integrity to get major label music. Apple would be okay without DRM; their store is incorporated right in iTunes. Users don’t need to search for it. But it’s naive to think that without DRM there’d be more innovative stores that could really compete. Little guys aren’t going to compete for the big guys’ music. There’d be bands and labels with their own stores, but they’d still need to be on iTunes to even attempt to make a mark. And even then you could be looking at a file format war. Indie Label A will completely alienate the market of iPod users if they only release their music as WMA, OGG, FLAC, SHN, or whatever doesn’t play on the iPod.

Now let’s get all the Apple fanatics defending DRM to fight it and see what happens.