Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Reaction to the reactions on Jobs' Thoughts on Music

Update Sometimes it is almost like Steve is a prophet ;-). Slashdot reported yesteday that HD-DVD and BluRay encryption had been totally broken, orignally sourced from BoingBoing. The DRM system in place on these discs, AACS was said by the movie studios to be uncrackable like CSS (used for DVDs) was. I can't find a direct source for what movie studios said AACS was unbreakable, but that link to the NYTimes says it was said, so it must be true ;-). The latest crack is not the first for AACS, which had been partially broken in December 06M, but the current crack isn't for specific titles like the earlier crack, this hole applies to every HD-DVD title. It is not quite one-click Rip simple yet, but it seems only a matter of time until this DRM system is completely busted. Can you imagine wanting to update all the HD-DVD+BluRay players plus the software players? Would early adopters be screwed because newer titles wouldn't work on their players? Could existing players be updated with a new processing key? Do normal consumers want to worry about this stuff? This is exactly Steve's point about DRM systems used throughout numerous devices, across many companies. All DRM gets cracked at some point.

Original Post In case you missed it, Apple CEO Steve Job's posted a rare, well near blog entry, called Thoughts on Music. I would encourage everyone to read it, but here is the summary:
  • The big 4 record labels make Apple sell music in DRM-wrapped files
  • DRM doesn't stop any piracy, it just makes buying music more difficult for normal users, and the big 4 already sell the vast majority of music unencrypted on CDs
  • Apple doesn't want to license its' DRM, FairPlay, cause the probability of it getting cracking increases exponentially once many people have access to it, and Apple would be contractually obligated to continue the cat and mouse game
  • Insteead, Apple wants the big 4 to allow them to sell music without DRM and Apple would embrace this in a heartbeat
The reaction has been wide and varied. You could spend all day reading TechMeme on this.

I use the iTunes Store on a regular basis, I buy songs all the time. The DRM restrictions in place work fine for me, and the convenience of downloading music easily with no hassles has outweighed going to a retail store and buying a CD then ripping it to get DRM free songs. But I think Jobs is spot on, the only sustainable model going forward is DRM free. Every DRM scheme employed has been cracked, and sometimes are unfixable. DVD's copy protection is so open right now it might as well not exist. The entire scheme only adds complexity and costs to DVD hardware makers, and the mastering and production of DVDs. It certainly does not stop any pirates.

In a lot of the blog chatter, you hear over and over again, eMusic sells DRM free music, including some music that is DRMed on iTunes even thought the labels selling that music, independents, would be fine selling their music on iTunes DRM free. I had actually noticed this myself the end of last year when I was thinking of buying the Sarah McLaughlin Christmas CD Wintersong from iTunes, but found it through her own site DRM free. This was intriguing, I ultimately didn't buy the CD, but I think Apple needs to do the following immediately, or with the next version of iTunes, because there is definitely some hypocrisy in the air right now:
  • Sell DRM free AAC files from all labels, that would be independents right now, that give the go ahead
  • Allow anyone that has bought a DRMed file that is now DRM free to re-download for free
  • Add a label to all DRMed music identifying it as such, like the Clean/Explicit tag

So I went to see what kind of music was available on eMusic and was immediately turned off. Do you see a store when you go to their site? No, you see an offer for a trial, like a magazine, wait a second, this smells like a subscription. So I fill out my personal information in Step 1 of the 4 part registration process, to see what kind of plans exist, and on Step 2 after I am supposed to put my credit card information I see this:

eMusic Basic, $9.99/month, means the minimum I could pay is $0.33 a track if I download all 30, or clearly significantly higher if I don't make sure I empty out my 30 track allotment when my subscription renews.
eMusic Plus, $14.99/month, means the minimum I could pay is $0.30 a track if I download all 50, etc.
eMusic Premium, $19.99/month, mimimum of $0.26 a track if I download all 75.

I haven't even seen what you have and I have to give away my registration information and sign-up for a subscription? You must be joking. Not interested, you might have some great stuff there that I would even buy from you, but your not getting me as a customer until I can see if there is something I want to buy before giving you all my data and signing up for anything. Imagine if you walked into, say The Gap, and they made you hand over a credit card just to browse, insane. These are the kind of shenanigans that make me want to use the iTunes Store, it is more consumer friendly even if the DRM exists. I think the real takeaway might be that if iTunes sold DRM free music, their share of the downloadable music market might increase since its still the best most consumer friendly media store.

An anonymous commenter provided a link to eMusic so you can browse their catalog. I am not losing my mind though, this is not on their homepage that I get, the word browse is not even in the source of the page. Well, at least I can determine now if I want to take my 25 "trial songs" before cancelling a subscription.