A new report suggests that Apple and three of the "Big Four" record labels are in talks to bring DRM-free tracks to iTunes, and once and for all do away with copy protection on the world's largest music store.
I applaud the companies for finally coming together and trying to remove draconian policies while adapting to our changing times, but this news even surprises me a bit.
To me, the bigger news here is not that Apple is trying to bring DRM-free tracks to iTunes--it needs to, thanks to Amazon.com's DRM-free store--but rather that iTunes is an unbridled success, even though DRM abounds on the service.
Any tech lover will tell you that buying songs from Amazon is preferred. After all, why would anyone want to support DRM? And although demographic data isn't readily available, I don't think it's much of a stretch to say Amazon's customers have a heavy population of individuals that are knowledgeable about tech and realize that buying copy-protected tracks only hurts us over the long term.
iTunes customers are entirely different, though. Unlike Amazon customers, I think the majority of iTunes customers are mainstream consumers that don't possess strong tech knowledge, and they're more concerned about convenience and impulse than doing what's best for consumers. After all, if they really cared about what the Recording Industry Association of America is doing to us (and the artists, by the way), they wouldn't buy songs from iTunes, would they?
Say what you will about DRM and whether it's a necessary evil, but I just don't think the mainstream consumer cares about it. Simply put, it's much easier for the average person to go to iTunes, look up a song, buy it, and listen to it in a matter of seconds rather than go to Amazon, buy the song, download it, and then add it to iTunes to listen to it.
Sure, it's an extra step that wouldn't take so long, but you know what? If iTunes works, and that song plays on the person's computer and iPod, they couldn't care less whether it has DRM.
And that's the biggest issue we face. Those knowledgeable about the world of music and DRM know that the latter is hurting us all. They know that DRM doesn't really help the artists and that it also makes piracy an even greater issue than it should be. Say what you will about BitTorrent and "illegal" downloading sites across the Web, but I'm a firm believer that they don't hurt music sales as much as the RIAA wants us to believe.
Nowhere is the nonchalance more apparent than in sales figures. iTunes is the world's largest music retailer, and there are no signs of that slowing down anytime soon. Meanwhile, devices from companies like iRiver, Creative, and SanDisk continue to sit on store shelves as iPods fly off.
If people really cared about DRM, they wouldn't buy songs from iTunes, but they would run to Amazon to show their support for DRM-free music.
Realizing that, why would record labels jump at the chance to remove DRM from their songs on the world's largest music retailer? Sure, EMI has already done it, but let's face it: having DRM hasn't hurt sales so far.
Apple is undoubtedly trying to make the point that DRM-free music will bring more consumers to the store and increase each company's revenue, but that's a tough sell for an industry that doesn't like Apple, doesn't like piracy, and doesn't trust us.
But after a while, I don't think you can only lay the blame on the RIAA. Shouldn't the average person be shown that DRM is damaging to all of us? Shouldn't the average person realize that buying DRM-free songs is best for all of us?
I think so.