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Why Apple Cannot Allow DRM-free Indie Music

Steve Jobs‘s recent Thoughts on Music posting in favour of DRM-free music from the Big Four raises the question (at least among some observers) of why then cannot Indie music currently be DRM-free? Why is it all or nothing?

The answer is pure Apple through and through. The tyranny of choice. Think about the consequence of iTunes Music Store offering some music in FairPlay, some in unprotected MP3 format. Now every song needs to be clearly marked as which format it will be purchased in! No longer can I just click the Buy buttong and know what I am getting.

But how would this be communicated? A special “flag” icon to indicate format - that would not likely be noticed. A dialog box on purchase - people do not read them, and already ignore the current ones. The net result would be confused consumers wondering why some music they purchase works with their Zen and other purchased music will not play. Lots of angry customers. The result: a degrading of the iTunes Music Store experience and customer loyalty.

It is not going to happen. It would be bad enough for music to be DRM-free and videos to be DRMed (and what of music videos, who knows!). At least this is much easier to explain to the customers. But even here, I would think that it is clear that removing video DRM is part of Apple‘s strategic agenda initiated by Thoughts on Music - first get rid of DRM for music, then watch the music sales shoot up. then say to the video industry “Would you like some of that too?”.

Regardless, it should be clear that Apple really needs this to be an all or nothing deal. Probably the worst case for Apple would be for two of the Big Four to come out with resounding Yes and two with resounding No, leaving Apple in an unpleasant position of having to deal with this issue or look to be blowing smoke.

Posted Monday, February 12, 2007. Permalink. 6 Comments.


Maybe, when Steve went out to sell the idea of iTunes, together with the "one price fits all", he could set something like "all under the same conditions".

Or, maybe, the Big Four asked for the same conditions to the four!

We know the asked or were proposed of a "fast" repairement of cracks in the DRM...

Posted Thursday, February 22, 2007 06:51 PM by Luis Alejandro Masanti.

Well, why should Apple do this?

The relatively few people that care about DRM-free indie music can just go buy it from the online stores that specialize in selling DRM-free music from artists no one ever heard of.

Isn't that just so much simpler? Go to the DRM-free shop to get DRM-free stuff.

What are these morons whining about?

Posted Friday, February 23, 2007 02:55 AM by Jimmi Schou Hansen.


After reading Job's open letter to the music industry, I asked myself the same question. My initial thoughts were similar to yours. However, after considering the issue a bit more, there is no reason Apple couldn't seamlessly drop DRM from the Indie labels.

I found your blog through a post on John Gruber's Daring Fireball blog. John makes valid points regarding the already present tags next to each song (for "explicit" content, etc.). Similarly a "DRM Free" tag would be just as easy to use. I'd go one step further and suggest that this just might embarrass the big 4 labels into following suit. I also find the notion of selectively dropping DRM (and tagging accordingly) would somehow create "confused consumers" to be unsubstantiated.

I've covered this topic in some detail in my own blog on this issue if you're interested. (Click on my name for link).

Still, I like your blog. This is obviously a very important topic which is worthy of much discussion.

Posted Friday, February 23, 2007 06:07 AM by Steve.

I absolutely agree -- it's interesting that the desire to break the DRM hold is blinding people to inconsistencies in their stance on music issues.

On the one hand, there's consensus in criticising Zune and others, with their inconsistent pricing, and unpredictable rights (e.g. sharing music from some labels and not others), but little recognition of the same issues in advocating a partially DRM-free iTunes catalogue.

I guess it's just the desire to undermine DRM, without thinking about the details.

Posted Friday, February 23, 2007 09:50 PM by Marc Nothrop.

Sorry, can't get why Indie music but no any other??? seems strange to me.


Professional movie editing software

Posted Wednesday, July 25, 2007 04:59 AM by frida.

The point I was trying to make is that there is a cost associated with the complexity (for Apple, but more importantly for the end user) of adding DRM and DRM-free options.

That cost easily exceeded the benefit of allowing just Indie music to be DRM-free, and that cost essentially vanishes if all music on the store was DRM-free. In the end, Apple chose the third option of ensuring the benefit was sufficient to outweight the cost - one of the big four was offered as DRM-free, together with the higher price for DRM-free music.

Posted Wednesday, July 25, 2007 09:32 PM by Peter N Lewis.

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