This may surprise some of you, but, DRM has been very good for Medialoper. While it’s true that the whole ‘Loper team is generally opposed to all things DRM, it just so happens that a huge segment of new readers arrive at Medialoper each day after searching Google for solutions to various DRM related problems. The sad truth is, DRM is what brought many of you to Medialoper in the first place.
While our DRM related search traffic is mostly constant throughout the year, we see a surge in traffic around the holidays. That surge peaks on Christmas day as consumers desperately search for ways break the shackles on various DRM crippled holiday gifts.
While it’s great that new readers are discovering Medialoper, we’d be happier if consumers weren’t being suckered into the DRM shell game that restricts fair use and offers no value in return.
And so, in the spirit of the holiday season, and despite our best interests, we’re happy to present Medialoper’s first annual DRM-free Holiday Shopping guide.
Why Give DRM-Free Media Gifts?
In the old days you could safely give the gift of music, or a movie, or even a book, without worrying about pesky issues like device compatibility. Furthermore, we took for granted the fact that the gifts we gave would continue to provide enjoyment for years to come, and not stop working one day for no apparent reason.
In the era of digital media, things are quite different. If you want to give your nephew music for Christmas, you need to know if he has an iPod, a Zune, or something worse.
Cross your fingers and hope that Granddad doesn’t plan on watching that video of the 1955 World Series that you gave him more than a few times. It probably won’t play this time next year. And that ebook you gave your wife? Don’t expect her to loan it to you when she’s done reading it. She won’t be able to if it’s locked down by DRM.
DRM changes everything. It’s the gift that keeps on giving (headaches). With DRM the simple act of giving media as a gift has become infinitely more complex. But only if you buy DRM restricted media. Give the gift of DRM-free media and you’ll ensure that everyone is happy long after the holidays are over.
Giving DRM-Free Music
With all of the major labels effectively abandoning DRM as a business strategy it’s never been easier to buy DRM-free music. In fact, music leads all other forms of media in terms of available DRM-free content.
The challenge, however, comes when you try to give a specific title. This is true for all forms of media. It’s incredibly challenging to give a specific album, movie, or book as a digital media gift. Instead, you’ll likely need to give a much less personal (and more flexible) gift certificate or subscription.
Some things to consider when shopping for DRM-free music:
- iTunes still does not have an entirely DRM-free catalogue. It’s likely that an iTunes gift certificate would be spent on a mix of DRM-free and DRM restricted music. Also, if the recipient doesn’t own an iPod (yes, there are actually some people who own non-Apple media players) they may not be able to play DRM-free iTunes songs. Newer Sandisk players, for example, still don’t support unprotected AAC files.
- An Amazon gift certificate can be redeemed for tracks in Amazon’s MP3 store. With a large selection featuring music from all of the majors and many indie labels, Amazon has emerged as the best all around source for reasonably priced DRM-free music.
- An eMusic subscription makes an excellent gift. Especially for those who love jazz, blues, and indie rock. eMusic’s catalog has grown to over 3.5 million songs and more labels are being added regularly.
- As a last resort, you might consider giving good, old fashioned CDs. They are digital, after all, and the gift recipient can use them any way he or she pleases.
- Bonus gift idea for those who prefer to make their own gifts: Burn your gift recipient a copy of WFMU’s Free Music Archive sampler. All tracks are covered by a Creative Commons license. WFMU’s Free Music Archive is expected to launch soon.
Giving DRM-Free Movies
Over the past two years we’ve seen an influx of online video that would have been unthinkable not so long ago. Free video services like Hulu serve up network television programs and full length feature films at no cost to viewers.
Unfortunately, all of the video related download services are still protected by competing and incompatible DRM schemes. Buy a video through Amazon Unbox and it won’t play on an iPod. Buy a video from iTunes and it won’t play on your TiVo or Windows Media Player.
While the the studios have come a long way in moving their content online, they have failed miserably at producing a reasonable value proposition for downloadable content. As a result, your digital video gifting options are limited to more traditional formats:
- Standard DVDs are still be the best alternative to giving digital video as a gift. While DVDs are DRM protected, the DRM is easily broken with widely available free software. Furthermore, the studios have shown no interest (yet) in prosecuting consumers for ripping legally purchased DVDs for personal use. DVDs are reasonably priced, compatible with a wide range of devices, and provide consumers with the flexibility to shape shift media as needed.
- A Netflix subscription makes an excellent holiday gift for a movie lover. The Netflix unlimited plans also include free online streaming. While the streaming is DRM protected, it’s important to remember that these are rentals and they’re also accessible on-demand.
Giving DRM-Free eBooks
The Kindle may be the must have gadget of this holiday season — if for no other reason, because Oprah says so — but you can’t give one as a gift this year even if you try. Amazon has announced that it won’t be shipping any more Kindles until after the holiday season. It’s just as well considering the DRM restrictions on Kindle eBooks. Each Kindle book is tied to a specific device — no sharing allowed. And if you decide at some point to switch to a Sony e-Reader, you can forget about transferring your Kindle library to your new reader. Welcome to the future, where your bookshelf is chained to the book store.
eBook standards are still evolving, and there’s actually more DRM fragmentation in the eBook market then there ever was in music or video. If you’re contemplating giving an eBook as a gift, you should be reasonably sure that the person your giving the book to can read the file format. PDF is probably the most common, but not always the most optimal reading experience. Needless to say, a gift certificate is probably the safest route to gifting an eBook.
Consider these eBook gift options:
- A Fictionwise gift certificate. Fictionwise is a leading eBook retailer offering support for a number of different eBook formats, and a wide selection of DRM-free eBooks.
- The iPhone and iPod Touch are emerging as serviceable eReaders thanks to the free Stanza reading software. Stanza has recently been announcing content partnerships with publishers to deliver DRM-free eBooks. Several Stanza compatible titles are available online from the Pan Macmillan website. Expect more publishers to follow suit if these pilot programs pan out. If that happens, there could be a whole lot more DRM-free eBook options by Christmas 2009.
DRM is Never an Appropriate Gift
As we move forward into a world made up of digital media content there is so much to consider. What used to be a simple gift option has now become a complex decision tree. The complexity can almost always be minimized by sticking with DRM-free media.
If you want to ensure that your loved ones are happy this holiday season, just say no to DRM.