A lot of speculation had arisen regarding Steve Jobs’ announcement with EMI but the improbable sounding rumours of DRM-free music fell a little to close to April 1st to be taken seriously by many until Tuesday morning. A pleasant surprise for all, then, when they announced just that. DRM-free music in about a month’s time. Well, sort of. The first caveat is that to begin with it’s only available through iTunes. That means it will only be downloadable in AAC which is frankly useless to anyone who doesn’t own an iPod or one of the few compatible Sony players. Apple are quite deliberately not providing MP3 downloads, which again casts doubt on Jobs’ seemingly altruistic championing of “open” music.
The second issue is a split-pricing structure. DRM-free tracks are available at a higher bitrate, while the standard bitrate tracks remain fully DRM’d just as before. Naturally this provides an excuse for higher prices for the former, with the latter available because “not everybody cares about interoperability or sound quality” according to EMI CEO Eric Nicoli. Quite why those two should be entwined, however, is a mystery. It also means the unknowing are likely to purchase the cheaper option without understanding what they are giving up. So it clear they are not yet committed to a DRM-free world since it is being sold as an enhanced “feature”, not a consumer right. Worse still, it only benefits those who are happy to embrace Apple’s non-interoperable format, so it’s trading one problem for another. It is a step in the right direction, however, and we can only hope that this is the first domino toppling. Despite my scepticism about the world of online music purchasing, I have said for some time that as soon as one of the major labels releases their catalogue in DRM-free MP3 I’ll buy an album and that promise still stands. We’re getting there, but there was something of a smokescreen in yesterday’s announcement that not everyone seems to have grasped.
Kirsten and I (but really her) are currently working on a new project that I can hopefully reveal very soon, once everything is set up and running smoothly. It’s looking to be extremely informative for those tentatively stepping out into the real world in the next year or two, and is rather pretty too. Watch this space for details.
Neil Gaiman was sharing a bunch of YouTube videos in his latest post and I’ll leave you with Tyger, which was simply stunning in a beautifully mysterious way. Mesmerising enough that I feel compelled to share.