After months of searching I think I’ve finally found something good to say about the Zune. It’s very possible that Microsoft’s new media player will be the death of DRM as we know it.
Before the Zune, DRM was merely a frustrating choice that consumers had to make. To legally purchase digital music released on a major recording label your choices were iTunes or one of several PlaysForSure music stores. Buying any more than a few songs from either source meant that you were essentially locking yourself in to one of the two proprietary copy protection schemes, or running the risk of having to repurchase your collection if you switched brands at some point in the future.
By presenting yet another proprietary DRM solution, Microsoft’s Zune further adds to the confusion consumers are experiencing over incompatible media players and music formats. The result? Microsoft seems to be baffling consumers, confusing the media, and scaring away content providers.
Thanks to the Zune the case against DRM may finally be reaching a tipping point.
It’s no secret that record labels have been unhappy about the control that Steve Jobs has exerted over pricing and other aspects of digital distribution. Unfortunately, the labels need to go through Apple to gain access to the massive iPod market.
To the music industry the Zune must look like deja vu all over again. By tethering their media player to the Zune Marketplace, Microsoft has essentially cloned the iTunes business model. If the Zune succeeds the labels know they’ll have to deal with Microsoft in order to get their music in the Zune Marketplace. First Apple, and now this? Right about now the labels must be wondering who DRM is supposed to benefit.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the major labels have finally started experimenting with DRM-free digital music — albeit on a trial basis in order to “gauge consumer interest” (which is sort of like Exxon experimenting with $1 a gallon gasoline in order to gauge consumer interest). For the labels, unencrypted music means iPod compatibility without Apple, and Zune compatibility without Microsoft.
It’s no wonder that record companies are finally starting to question the value of DRM. As we’ve noted many times before, DRM only punishes honest consumers. Pirates will freely copy digital media regardless of what restrictions are put in place. Add to that the fact that technology companies seem to be the only ones benefiting from DRM and, in the case of Microsoft, those companies are willing to change course on a whim, and you begin to see how pointless and risky DRM actually is for the music industry.