DRM Ends, Variable Pricing Begins for iTunes Music
This day will be long remembered: Apple's iTunes Store no longer sells music with "digital rights management" restrictions attached.
I've been looking forward to this moment for a long time. A round of thanks are appropriate: to Apple for being the first mass-market computer firm to debunk DRM's utility in public; to Amazon for launching an MP3-only, DRM-free download store; to the big record labels for finally recognizing that DRM couldn't be made to work; to the little record labels for not asking for DRM in the first place.
Alas, I myself am not quite free of DRM. My own iTunes library features one purchased track, now available in iTunes Plus, for which I have yet to be offered a chance to pay 30 cents to upgrade it to Apple's higher-quality, DRM-free iTunes Plus format. (
I've asked Apple for a response and will update the post when that arrives. Update: The company says that it sometimes has trouble matching up new iTunes Plus releases with their earlier, DRMed incarnations if there are slight differences between the two; in those cases, you should report the discrepancy through its "Contact iTunes Store Support" form.)
I also have about 100 tracks that I got for free as part of various promotions. Those aren't eligible for iTunes Plus upgrades, but I also don't like most of them all that much -- I may just delete them and buy the handful I enjoy. (Apple spokesman Jason Roth did say this morning that future freebie downloads will come in iTunes Plus format.)
But as part of the deal that allowed Apple to dispense with music DRM -- its TV and movie downloads remain subject to an even stricter set of digital locks -- the company agreed to let record labels pick one of three per-song prices. While labels can stick with the old 99-cents-a-song rate, they can also charge 69 cents or $1.29 each.
I have no quarrel with variable pricing in the abstract. It's not a difficult concept to grasp, and it doesn't affect my use of the song after the purchase. Its implementation can be another thing, though.
So far, the cheaper tracks seem hard to find. The iTunes Store's home page has a couple of "Great Songs At A Great Price" boxes spotlighting rock and R&B songs at the lower price; the finds there include the Clash's "London Calling," Soundgarden's "The Day I Tried to Live," Junior Walker and the All-Stars' "(I'm A) Road Runner," and Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get A Witness," among others that I can endorse. But I couldn't find any other 69-cent tracks in repeated searches (it may be that independent labels which, like Washington-based Dischord, have wanted to charge less haven't updated their own pricing).
Curiously enough, there's no comparable promotion of iTunes tracks at the higher price. But six of the ten "Top Songs" listed on the store's home page sell for $1.29 each, with the others at the traditional 99-cent price. Elsewhere, the tracks on U2's "No Line On the Horizon" sell for $1.29 each, while almost all of the songs on Bruce Springsteen's "Working On a Dream" go for 99 cents apiece.
Users may not mind the extra 30 cents, or they might simply shift their shopping to Amazon's cheaper MP3 store (which is where I wound up buying the new U2 release, motivated by a one-day sale).
In other digital-music news, EMI announced this morning that it would reissue the entire Beatles catalog in digitally remastered form... wait for it... only on CD. That's right, they're still figuring out what to do about this Internet thing:
Discussions regarding the digital distribution of the catalog will continue.There is no further information available at this time.
My three-word summary of the news on Twitter: "Stupidest. Management. Ever."
In the comments, you have a choice: a) report on your own experience with iTunes today, including whether you're still waiting for the chance to upgrade any past purchases to iTunes Plus; or b) predict the year when the Beatles will sell their music as digital downloads.
April 7, 2009; 2:29 PM ET
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