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Jobs Says: Let My Music Free! February 6, 2007

Posted by David Card in Media.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs finally says publicly what I’ve been telling reporters for years: the only reason iTunes has DRM is because the labels and publishers want it. Not because Apple does. Of course he’s only saying it now because he’s got a bunch of crazy Europeans some “consumer groups” — and maybe the EU — on his back.

“Lock-in?” Who needs lock-in when you have 70% market share? And there is no lock-in because only something like 6% to 20% of the songs on iPod users’ devices comes from the iTunes store (see Figure 5). Not the 3% Jobs gets from over-simplified arithmetic (a ton of iPods are upgrades, and only about half of device owners buy any digital music at all.)

Anyway, Jobs joins Yahoo Music’s David Goldberg among others in suggesting the music industry give up on DRM and distribute unprotected digital music. Just like they do on CDs. His main argument: it doesn’t work anyway. He’s right. We at Jupiter have long been saying no DRM is uncrackable. But it’s not quite that simple.

Our analysis, a lot of it based on consumer surveys, suggests that DRM could be valuable in unlocking new business models, rather than trying to lock down old ones. Things like legal sharing to encourage try-before-you buy (Zune’s best idea), pass-along affiliates (PassAlong Networks, as well as those anarchists at Weed), tapping into the existing P2P networks, and, gasp, my favorite, on-demand subscription music services like Real Rhapsody and Napster.

Apple doesn’t care about this stuff. It just wants to sell iPods. And it’s easy to say that consumers hate DRM when yours is relatively painless but no one else’s is. And you’re not willing to help that because secrets might “leak.” In fact, iPod users tell us they’d like to buy music from any store they choose.

But why Rob Glaser at Real seems to be endorsing DRM elimination is beyond me. Maybe he and Goldberg both mean “for music purchase,” rather than “rental.” How do these guys think they can make Rhapsody or Yahoo Unlimited work without some kind of DRM? I’m all ears.

I guess they could try it the eMusic way, and set limits to the number of downloads by time. But eMusic’s really a record club, not on-demand access to a jukebox in the sky. So maybe that jukebox can go back to streaming, rather than downloading. That might work, but not for mobility, at least not till we have some pretty awesome over-the-air bandwidth.

But for a la carte downloads? Sure. Nobody needs DRM. Ripping was always the bigger problem than file-sharing anyway. That, and pricing ;->

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