Several reports today that Apple has started its experiment with offering music that isn’t restricted by any Digital Rights Management. They are calling it iTunes Plus — I guess that the “Plus” is the freedom to do whatever you want with the songs you download.
Which, of course, shouldn’t really be a plus, but rather a default. But “iTunes Default” or “iTunes As It Shoulda Been In The First Place” probably wouldn’t have gone over too well with the marketing folks, so “iTunes Plus” it is.
Or maybe the “Plus” is the 30% premium that you are paying for the unencumbered tracks — but as we’ve pointed out many times before, there are various ways to define “free,” and if we quibble about things that are supposedly free that actually restrict consumer freedom, maybe it’s OK to pay a bit more for that freedom. Especially if it’s also encoded at a higher bitrate, to boot.
Apple certainly thinks so:
“Our customers are very excited about the freedom and amazing sound quality of iTunes Plus,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, in the press release. “We expect more than half of the songs on iTunes will be offered in iTunes Plus versions by the end of this year.”
Of course, a more cynical person than I might point out that this could also be a way for Apple to raise prices without really raising prices. After all, do you really think that a single file encoded at 256kps costs them even 20% more to create and store?
And the same cynical person could also wonder if the price hike depresses overall sales — or cheaper restricted songs outsell the more expensive unrestricted songs — then conclusions could be drawn that consumers don’t really want unrestricted songs. And we will fall back into the same old trap.
But I doubt it: the genie is finally out of the bottle, so today isn’t a day for cynicism, this is a day for celebration. All things considered, it’s a pretty major step: a major label — EMI — is taking the risk on selling digital music with no restrictions whatsoever. So good on everybody involved. Now, let’s have some more!
One more thought: if Amazon is smart, they will launch their non-DRM’d music service with at least the same bitrate per track, but with a price point of $0.99 — or even $0.79 per track. And even cheaper than that for the Long Tail songs.