Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Music: Are you ready for that? Driving your car down a desert highway listening to the seventies and eighties rise like zombies from the rippling sand? I hope so.

Apple encourages MP3 distribution?

Jerry Stratton, December 8, 2006

I have long harbored a secret hope that Apple’s near-absolute refusal to license their Fairplay digital restriction mechanism is a secret squeeze play. It seems designed to force the music industry into selling music without artificial restrictions, just as the industry currently sells CDs today.

Whether it’s the invention of the VHS recorder or the cassette player, the “content industry” always seems to need to be dragged kicking and screaming into making money; they can’t imagine that people buy their products in order to listen to music or watch movies. It appears very difficult for the industry to grok that making it easier to listen to music or watch movies will result in more, rather than fewer, music and video sales.

Years after Apple introduced the iTunes Music Store, the industry doesn’t seem to have realized that it succeeded against its competitors because it offered fewer restrictions and an ownership model to music lovers.

It looks like things may be changing, slowly. Very slowly. Nick Carr writes, for example:

Because it has the dominant music player, Apple has been able to call the shots up to now. It was the only company with the leverage to get people to start buying digital songs online, and to get that business going the record companies played along. They had little choice. But if sales of songs through iTunes stop growing, as seems to be happening, Apple loses a lot of its leverage.

The emphasis is mine. Apple never had the kind of leverage that Carr claims. Apple’s only leverage has been the kind of artificial restrictions implemented if the industry sticks with artificial restrictions on when, where, and how music can be listened to.

Carr’s article is about a switch to selling music without digital restrictions. Apple has never had any leverage against music companies doing this. Apple made the iPods to play unrestricted MP3 files, and they didn’t change this when they launched the iTunes Music Store. It is just as easy to play MP3s on an iPod today as it has always been.

The iPod plays at least four music formats that don’t require restriction mechanisms: two compressed formats and two uncompressed formats. Even the lowly iPod shuffle can play non-restricted MP3, AAC, WAV, and AIFF files. But if the music companies green-light non-restricted formats, it doesn’t matter what format on-line stores choose. Music fans will be able to easily listen to their music on the iPod anyway. Tools will be made to transparently convert files the iPod doesn’t play into files that the iPod does play. Format doesn’t matter as much when files are sold without artificial restrictions that block format changes.

If the music industry wants to end iTunes Music Store dominance, the solution is the same as it has always been: sell music that is easier for music purchasers to listen to than what the iTMS sells. The best solution is also what it has always been: unrestricted formats that are at last as easy to re-use as the compact disc.

February 6, 2007: Apple asks music companies to drop digital restrictions

It never made sense to claim that Apple was pressuring music companies to keep requiring digital restriction mechanisms on their music. Now, on the front page of the Apple web site, Steve Jobs writes that Apple would prefer that all music be sold to the consumer just as it is sold on a CD: in a format that is easily format-shifted to any player.

The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

One of the things that digital restriction mechanisms do is impede technological advancement. DRM of the past is a hurdle for new, innovative products, that end up having to support the old restrictions.

If such requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players. This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies.

Some people have even claimed that, if the record companies were to drop DRM, Apple would continue to sell artificially restricted music from the iTunes Music Store! That never made any sense, but it is nice to see Apple publicly refute this.

Even now, Ars Technica is finding it hard to let go of the Apple Loves DRM meme.

It is too easy to forget what the world was like when Apple came out with the iTunes Music Store. I remember worrying that in a few years I wouldn’t be able to play any music on my Macintosh. The world was heading for heavily-restricted music, sold on complex terms that required music fans to rent their music. And part of the restrictions were that the complex mechanisms were implemented only for Windows; the software necessary to play this music was rarely ported over to the Macintosh. It looked a lot like those fancy new iPods would soon be empty of anything except ancient music from the days of CD.

For someone who, because of iTunes, had started listening to music again, this was a bleak vision.

  1. <- My celebrity playlist
  2. Rumours of Al! ->