Record company EMI have announced that they are to ditch DRM, but at a price. Premium versions of its digital catalog will be made available on Apple's iTunes, without Digital Rights Management, and encoded at the higher bit-rate of 256kbps (up from 128kbps). The catch? Songs will be priced at $1.29 each, a 30 cents increase on their DRM'd equivalent. Alhough album pricing will remain the same, and customers will still have the option of purchasing individual DRM'd tracks at the lower price of 99 cents. EMI will also be offering other digital music retailers the same wholesale prices for its premium DRM-free downloads.
So let me get this straight. EMI is attempting to compete with piracy by charging more for the convenience that non-DRM'd tracks offer, under the guise of 'higher quality'. This is a stupid strategy that I predict will have limited success. If this is to be the test case that proves that ditching DRM will invigorate the market place then I wish EMI (and the rest of the music industry) good luck -- as they'll surely need it.
Along with Eric Nicoli (CEO of EMI Group), Apple's Steve Jobs was also on hand at today's announcement, which was webcast live from London.
Attempting to sell the announcement to the gathered media, Jobs stressed that, in a sense, DRM-free music was nothing new. The majority of music sold is on CD, which has always been without DRM (aside from Sony's attempts, Jobs joked -- and look where that got them). This was a poorly disguised appeal to the rest of the music industry to jump on board the DRM-free train.
With regards to the price increase, Jobs argued that it wasn't an increase at all, but that the premium offering was in fact a discrete product in itself. Customers now had two choices. Asked whether this will open the door to variable pricing on iTunes, and Jobs replied in zen-like fashion. "Life is a balance between choice and simplicity", he said, and that Apple always tries to hit the sweet spot between the two.
So will Apple also be dropping DRM for its video downloads -- at least for the Disney-owned content that Jobs can influence? No, video and music are different, as unlike CDs, digital video has never been offered completely DRM-free (DVDs have a level of copy protection, albeit a rather weak one).
So from this we can read that Jobs isn't ideologically apposed to DRM (despite some interpretations of his open letter on the subject). Though I never thought he was.
Related post: Who needs iTunes? The rise of the ‘indie friendly’ video download store