Steve Jobs: “dump the DRM”

Here’s a turn-up for the books: Steve Jobs has published an open letter to, well, everybody. He’s talking about music and in particular, the calls for Apple to licence FairPlay so iTunes music works on anything. As you’d expect he’s not a fan of that idea, on the grounds that the more people licence FairPlay, the more likely it’ll be cracked.

He also takes on the “DRM lock-in” argument, although I’m not convinced: he says – rightly – that only 3% of music on iPods comes via iTunes, and argues that that can’t possibly mean iTunes purchases lock you into the iPod. I’d disagree with that, because the 3% is an average: for every iPod owner like me who shuns DRMed music altogether, there will be someone who spends hundreds of quid on copy-protected tunes – so while I’m not locked into the iPod, they are.

The best bit, though, is this:

In 2006, under 2 billion DRM-protected songs were sold worldwide by online stores, while over 20 billion songs were sold completely DRM-free and unprotected on CDs by the music companies themselves. The music companies sell the vast majority of their music DRM-free, and show no signs of changing this behavior, since the overwhelming majority of their revenues depend on selling CDs which must play in CD players that support no DRM system.

So if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none.

…Convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace. Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly.

8 thoughts on “Steve Jobs: “dump the DRM”

  1. Gary says:

    Industry analyst Mark Mulligan has an interesting take on this.

    http://weblogs.jupiterresearch.com/analysts/mulligan/archives/2007/02/steve_jobs_hate.html

    So Jobs et al have taken a strategic decision that now is the time that they can do better without DRM than with. I completely agree with Card that Apple’s priority is selling iPods and that they would happily drop DRM to help that strategy. But Apple have readily utilised DRM as a retention tool to date, it’s just that now events and market conditions have combined to make DRM less key.

  2. Stephen says:

    I don’t find this very surprising: I’ve never bought the “DRM lockin” argument; I’ve always seen FairPlay as something Apple was forced into doing by the record companies to be allowed to sell music at all, so the fact that Steve is now ever so delicately pointing out the sheer idiocy of DRM, is not much of a surprise.

  3. Gary says:

    I’ve never bought the “DRM lockin” argument

    I think it’s important. I’ve spoken to a fair number of people who simply don’t know DRM exists until they try to move stuff from one machine to another and surprise surprise, discover DRM then. The worst example, to be fair, is the way in which Windows Media Player tried to DRM your ripped tunes, but the sheer hassle of getting round DRMed stuff (yes you can burn a CD, but it’s a hassle if you have more than a few tunes) is enough to make me steer well clear.

  4. Gary says:

    Incidentally Gruber makes an excellent point about DRM – music subscription services don’t work without it.

  5. Stephen says:

    Sure, I’m not saying DRM doesn’t have a lock-in effect in practice (although I wonder if the negative feelings induced in people who, as you say, discover DRM in a very annoying and personal way, doesn’t outweigh the supposed benefits, as in “I’ll never buy that shit again”) but I was saying that I don’t think DRM lockin was a major motivating factor for Apple, the way all the Mac haters and the Euro authorities make it out. I think they were indifferent at best, conscious of the negatives I outlined previously, and only did it because of the Evil Labels.

  6. Stephen says:

    And I think the point about subscriptions bears that out: if Apple were so wedded to DRM for lockin they would have exploited the ultimate lockin, the subscription service: but again, I think that people don’t always realise the music goes away when the subscription stops, and again, I think it just undermines the whole concept in the long term, creating all kinds of mental barriers about technology “tricks” when it comes to buying digital content. (No-one in my family really understands DVD regions, for example, they just know that “DVDs don’t always work” and so are quite wary of buying them.)

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