Well, all I can say is that it’s about godsdammed time. Today’s big news out of Macworld — that the iTunes Music Store is going DRM-free AND adding a tiered pricing structure — is good news for everyone involved.
It’s good news for consumers because — from the consumer standpoint — DRM sucks fully, totally and utterly. No matter how it was spun as one of those “for your protection” things, or as “protection for the artist,” it’s been proven time and time again to be a big pain in the ass for consumers. Anytime you purchase an artifact — including a digital file — with eithervsome kind of purely arbitrary use restriction and/or dependency on the large corporation that sold you the artifact to keep it working, that’s potential trouble. Period.
Also good news for the consumers: the tiered pricing structure. While the iTunes “99 cents for everything” model seemed revolutionary at the time, I think that was because of the novelty. At the time, everything was brand-new to the digital world, and so pricing the most obscure song in their catalog exactly the same as the latest Beyonce single made some kind of sense, because there was no history in terms of pricing structure, and only guesses as to what it should be.
Now, after a half-dozen years of the iTunes store helping to normalize digital downloads, and with people having already filled many of the gaps in their music collection, it only makes sense to go with a tiered structure. I can only assume this structure will follow the traditional model: you’ll pay more for new stuff; the mid-range for popular catalog titles, and the lowest price for the Long Tail stuff. The cool thing about his is that once they’ve fully broken the “one price fits all” model once and for all, that leaves the door open for a subscription model, a la eMusic.
A subscription to iTunes that allows users to download, say, 50 DRM-free songs per month for an average price of $0.89 per song could be a very powerful thing.
This probably won’t happen anytime soon, though once again, maybe this — along with the recent RIAA decision to stop suing consumers — means that the music industry has finally turned the corner and come face to face with the possibilities of digital distribution. In any event, watch for sales to go up to another plateau when this happens in April, as consumers don’t have to worry about the hassle of DRM’d music on the iTunes store, as well as the fact that songs from older U2 albums might be cheaper than songs from the new U2 album.
In fact, the huge pain in the ass of burning then ripping my iTunes music was one of the reasons that I haven’t purchased any music from the iTunes store in well over a year. At first, it was nice that they put that back door in, but now I’ve got my eMusic subscription, and I’ve got Amazon; so who needs all of the hassle? And sure, it works fine with my iPods, but I’ve got a lot of different music players, and I don’t necessarily use iTunes to manage everything.
In fact while iPods might have driven the downloads from iTunes, it sure as hell wasn’t the other way around.
Do the math: even though there have been over 5,000,000,000 downloads from iTunes, that doesn’t even begin to fill up the 173,000,000 iPods that have been sold. In fact, that only works out to about 30 songs per iPod.
Do you know anybody whose iPod only has 30 songs? I don’t. The point is that as a pure end-to-end closed system, the iTunes music store and the iPod are a failure. All of those millions of iPods sold should have translated into trillions of downloads for the iTunes store, but they didn’t. Partly, because many many people have multiple music players — some of which weren’t even iPods! — and partly because many many people instinctively didn’t trust that the music they bought from Apple today would be playable 30 years from now in the same way an old Grand Funk Railroad single is. Which doesn’t mean that the iTunes store wasn’t revolutionary; it just means that like all closed systems in a digital era, it had a huge flaw that eventually outweighed all other factors. And that flaw was DRM.
Which is why this is also good news for Apple: it means that people like me will begin to reincorporate iTunes into their lives, which can only goose sales.