Hi-Fi, DRM-Free iTunes Audio: Our Thoughts, and Yours
This morning, Apple and major music label EMI announced that the iTunes Store will in May start to sell high-quality (256kbps), digital rights management (DRM)-less audio files from EMI’s catalog for $1.29 per track. These new “premium” music downloads will play on any digital music player with AAC support, and sit alongside the iTunes Store’s existing 99-cent, lower-quality, DRM-locked tracks. We asked our editors two questions: will your music buying habits change? If so, or if not, why?
Below, you’ll find our answers. Please add your thoughts to the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Jesse Hollington, Contributing Editor, Canada: “For me the short answer to this question is no. I am already a dedicated iTunes Store customer, so my buying habits won’t change because of this. The 128kbps bit rate doesn’t matter to me at all, and the DRM has been unobtrusive enough for me to grudgingly live with. However, I am both excited and encouraged by this announcement, and am certainly far happier to be buying music that won’t be encumbered by DRM. On principle alone, I plan to upgrade portions of my music library to the premium quality content. I think this announcement is groundbreaking and spells a much brighter future for online content sales.”
Jerrod H., Contributing Editor, United States: “Between the DRM removal and higher quality audio, I’m most excited about the latter, as DRM has only rarely been a noticeable annoyance in how I use my audio. Additional audio quality will be an nice bonus to the individual-track impulse purchases I make from the iTunes Store - they may earn my $0.30 there. Where this offering will make the most profound difference for me, however, is in full albums. Lately, I’ve bought albums I’m truly interested in on physical CDs to get the best audio quality possible. With 256 kbps encoding without DRM or full-album price hikes, I may be able to justify online purchasing for full albums I would have otherwise bought in-store. Sure, I’d love to see individual premium tracks offered at the standard $0.99 price, and I’d love to see many more labels offer them, but this announcement is a great step in the right direction. I can’t wait.”
Dennis Lloyd, Publisher, United States: “It’s good news and a move in the right direction. Not only did Steve Jobs preach it in his recent article on DRM, but now he’s helping to make it happen. I only hope other labels will take notice and follow suit. Personally, I was never too concerned about purchasing 128kbps AAC-format, copy protected music on the iTunes Store. I know I will buy 256kbps AAC songs, because I import my CDs at 192 or 256 kbps AAC. EMI also has many of the artists I like, including The Chemical Brothers, Air, Röyksopp, and Massive Attack. I don’t mind paying $1.29 per song for higher quality and I’m hoping the artists actually see an increase in their bottom lines.”
Bob Levens, Contributing Editor, United Kingdom: “While I welcome the move away from DRM music, I doubt if this will change my buying habits to any great degree. I have purchased albums from iTS but mainly specialized ones that are not readily available in my local record store. I still like to have the physical presence of a CD and when I can get the actual CD for around the same price as the downloadable version I’ll go with the CD. Having a higher bitrate available might make me wonder if cluttering up more shelves with CDs, that I might only look at now and again, is worthwhile. I really hope this makes the advocates of DRM realize they are on the losing team and drop the whole idea.”
Charles Starrett, Contributing Editor, United States: “In the battle against restrictive DRM, this is great news. However, I already am an iTunes Store customer, buying quite a few albums simply for the convenience. To me, the ability to upgrade my current EMI tracks to a higher-quality DRM-free format for 30 cents is great news as well. It is the first time I can remember that consumers have been able to upgrade the quality of past media purchases without having to pay full price all over again, a problem currently plaguing next-gen DVD formats.”
LC Angell, Senior Editor, United States: “Today’s announcement of DRM-free EMI music won’t have any impact on my buying habits on the iTunes Store. I’m not sure how many EMI artists and bands are among my favorites, but until I can hop over to iTunes and buy any song without DRM, I’ll continue to buy most of my music on CD and rip the tracks myself. Plus, I’ve never been too keen on AAC—I’ve always encoded in MP3 format, which is much more universally playable. I would have much rather seen Apple move to an unprotected MP3 format for this initiative. Though doubtful, it may just give other online music stores an advantage if they end up selling DRM-free music from EMI and other labels in MP3 format. I know I’d buy from them instead of having AAC forced on me by iTunes.”
Jeremy Horwitz, Editor-in-Chief, United States: “Steve Jobs and Eric Nicoli just signed a death warrant for CDs. Some people were holding out for better quality, others objecting to the DRM, and with this announcement, both issues have been resolved at a reasonable price. I really haven’t bought much music from the iTunes Store in the past, because of quality concerns, but I’m pretty sure Apple’s about to change my music buying habits, especially if other labels come on board. From here on out, I’ll actually consider downloading a viable option if I really like an EMI artist’s single, or the prices of premium iTunes Store albums are competitive with or better than what I could pay for aggressively-priced CDs. They should be, given that EMI is no longer paying for the disc or the packaging.
A couple of other points to note are that this announcement paves the way for EMI (and Apple) to offer The Beatles’ collection at a bit rate that will satisfy picky listeners - an issue noted in this prior editorial - and finally enables Apple to publicly justify larger capacity iPods, superior iPod audio features, and the like. Few people apparently need the ability to carry 20,000 so-so-quality songs in their pockets, but lots of people will want the ability to carry high-quality music around. Some predicted that the iPhone meant the death of the iPod; if anything, this announcement increases the need for hard disk iPods or higher-than-iPhone-capacity flash iPods.”
You’ve heard our thoughts - what do you think? Your comments and thoughts are appreciated below.
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