Our take on Steve’s Thoughts on Music

Well, the gloves have come off between Steve and the labels…advocating sales of digital music without DRM is pretty close to crazytalk in most circles still. In fact, despite the record companies lofting a few trial balloons with a few tracks here and there, DRM is still king of the hill.

For those that live under a rock, you can read Steve’s “thoughts” at the Apple site.

Our question to you is do you think Steve’s thoughts on music also apply to movies? Considering he’s a large shareholder in Disney, personally, where’s the post advocating the same thing on the moving picture front? Frankly, movies are less likely to be pirated than music, as the file sizes are just pretty inconvenient (even with BitTorrent and similar). So, where’s the posting on movies?

As much as we love Steve and all the gang at Apple, we have to call a spade a spade on this one…if it was really a rant against DRM and about taking a stand here, we’d be talking about more than just music. What this comes down to is a way to put some pressure on the music labels (which Apple is in a much better position to do than with Hollywood, as the studios are still very cautious about getting into bed with Apple), and to take some pressure off from the European regulators (which, by the way, is a goal that so far isn’t being achieved).

Another interesting observation that we will throw out there is that if this move by Apple does force the hand of the music industry, you can bet that will further alienate the already paranoid motion picture industry. Unless the music industry’s move to DRM-free music really did turn out to be a huge win for them, you can bet that DRM will be staying on your copy of Cars for the long haul.

Of course, this could end up opening the flood gates, if even one of the big labels could be convinced to do this, and was successful at it, it could mark the beginning of the end for the DRM arms race. This would serve Apple’s goals quite nicely, because they have yet to invest significant R&D into DRM, unlike their pals up in Redmond. You can bet that Apple would like nothing more than to see DRM get scrapped and leave the Microsofties holding the tag for billions in R&D and integration into their operating system that no one would end up using.

All in all, there’s nothing immediate to be gained or lost here, it will spark some debate and conversation, could become a game changer, or could be just another footnote in the history of computing. But, it does give Apple more exposure, further sets them up as “the good guy” in the industry, and as any marketing wonk will tell you, any press is good press.

A little bit of linkage for you all, the Economist, which is a fantastic publication, has a decent piece up about all of this here.

Finally, we’ll go off-topic here for a minute and apologize for the apparent hiatus this week, no excuses or made up stories about being sick or anything like that, we simply have had other life priorities (work, family, etc.) that have kept us away from the site.

Apple Recon is, and will remain, a labor of love for the editors, that we work on when we have time, and we apologize to the reader (hehe, the one of you we have left) if that isn’t okay with you. It is what it is. The comments section is always open, and to echo the sentiments of many that have posted out here, we do appreciate the intelligent discussions that go back and forth with many of the posters. We will never censor you (even when you bitch us out for not posting more stuff, hey, we agree with you there!), and always want to encourage that kind of open sharing of thoughts and ideas here, about all topics Apple. Until next time, all the best…


20 Responses to Our take on Steve’s Thoughts on Music

  1. Nice post.

    I think Jobs does want to be the good guy here, but I also think he wants to stop wasting money on stupid DRM tactics that A) don’t work for very long, B) consumers dislike, and C) cost him money in R&D and time in updating software.

    Would DRM-free movie downloads change movie ticket or DVD sales? Doubtful. Movies are available free now–via torrents–but the time it takes to get one downloaded and the effort it takes to get it on a disc could be even more annoying than watching that guy keep getting up in front of the camera to go to the bathroom.

    I think we’re at a point now where if you make it easier to download a quality product for a reasonable fee, more people will be willing to do that. maybe I’m naive.

    Like the blog. Keep it up.

    Chris Vadnais

  2. Brian says:

    I think another point that Steve is trying to make is that the industry is forcing Apple (and all download sites) to do something that the labels themselves are unable to do or at the very best not doing very well. I can go out and buy unprotected music on CD, take it home a rip rip rip to my heart’s content (which is also my right as fair use) or if I choose, just duplicate the entire CD. However, I can’t do the same thing with movies I buy on DVD. Yes, there are workarounds available so yes I technically can do that but I have to work around the DRM that is there. It is a bit inconsistent that the labels insist on protecting music that they aren’t protecting themselves. Unless you consider the 10 to 12 tracks of crap music included on an album with the 2 good tracks a protection scheme.

    Here’s a question: Would you pay more than $.99 for a DRM-free track of music?

  3. Allen H says:

    Considering that VHS tapes had copy protection back in the 1980s (MacroVision, anyone?) and DVDs were copy protected from Day One, his statements seem sound. The claim is that the Industray sells it’s own music DRM free then asks for DRM from online stores. For videos, this is not the case. In the early days of (non protected) VHS and LaserDisc, everything was copied using the “analog hole” which still exists today for any DRM music, so that can’t be considered either.

    So, Apples to Apples, Apple Recon 🙂

  4. James Bogard says:

    Well, basically the movie companies and the record companies are owned by the same corporations. There are different executives, but it’s basically Sony/BMG, EMI, Universal, Warner, Disney. They even own the cable and broadcast networks. Jobs knows what he is up against, and yet at the same time, he is their guide to the cyber-mall in the nether world called the internet. He’s the man with the plan. They hate him for that, but they have to pay him deference. iTMS is the #4 music retailer behind Wallmart, Target, and Best Buy. It looks like EMI will go first. The others will fall into line. Everybody knows how to RIP songs and will soon know how to RIP DVDs. Many already do. TiVO, Sling, and EyeTV are very popular. The Genie is out of the lamp.

  5. Ethan says:

    I don’t have any huge insight to offer, but lets look at the current situation:

    Since production companies sell their hard copies (DVDs) with copy protection, I think they are in a position to demand for copy protection for online sales.

    Similarly, since the labels don’t take the responsibility of protecting their hard copies, they should not be allowed to demand copy protection for online sales.

    Regardless of all this though, I personally disagree with DRM on any media. I guess I don’t really have a reason – it just doesn’t sound right to me (how’s that for an intelligent comment? haha). I support Job’s position completely – no disagreement whatsoever.

    Oh, and would I pay more than $.99 for DRM-free tracks? No. Fairplay does not keep me from doing anything that I want to do with my music currently, so I’m pretty satisfied. I’d still rather not have to worry about things such as authorized computers though. If I really need an MP3 I just use tunebite to capture the analog signal – works pretty well.

  6. shane says:

    Do you really think DRM is the problem with online sales?

    I’ve bought some iTunes. They don’t sound bad, but they don’t sound as good as a CD do they? The CD comes with actual (and all of the) artwork and liner notes. Not so iTunes (or Rhapsody, Zune, Music Match, or whatever). Real CD’s have a larger catalog than any of the online stores. Do a little bargain bin shopping and you can get your favorite CD’s for close to online prices with all of the goodies just mentioned; better sound, better artwork, and liner notes.

    I’ve bought iTunes. I’ve burned ’em to CD and played the CD in my car, in my annoying Windows computer at work, in my daughters boom box (Halloween Mix) while handing out Halloween candy. They worked fine … no real DRM hang ups. Personally, I think this whole DRM brouhaha is whining started by a bunch of tight wad techno geeks who like their music like they like their software – free and open source! Then media/bloggers looking for ratings/hits rolled this “terrible” injustice into a big deal.

    If DRM was such a big, fat, hairy deal Apple’s iTunes store would not be the decent sized hit it has become. If the digital download offered a more comparable package to the CD it would probably be an even bigger hit. I like my liner notes: Who is the sax player on that track? Is that Michael McDonald doing background vocals on yet another album? What are the lyrics on that song?

    Trust me, it is the value equation. Saving only about five bucks on an digital album (especially when there are not the manufacturing, packaging, or transportation costs for the music labels when distributing online) in exchange for audio quality, nice & complete artwork, and liner notes is the reason downloads haven’t completely destroyed the CD – not DRM.

  7. bgfay says:

    I’ve been thinking about this issue since I saw that letter (shortly after it was posted) and it never occurred to me to think about movies. If Jobs is serious about getting rid of DRM as something more than just an Apple’s bottom line issue, then he has to address movies. Nutty.

  8. umijin says:

    First, movies and music are different animals. Yeah, the hip Web 2.0 crowd wants to say that media is media. But movies aren’t music for the simple reason that the usage patterns are different. I doubt that you’ll view any feature length movie (or even hour long TV show) more than twice. But it’s likely you listen to an average music file many, many times. (Unless it’s a dud – then you wasted your money…)

    Second, I would disagree that Apple hasn’t invested much capital in DRM. Surely they have and continue to. Otherwise, they’d give up the standard in a heartbeat so that other companies could use it. But there is more to this (below).

    Third, it’s not difficult for anyone to strip the DRM from iTunes music (as indicated above). So is DRM really an issue?

    The issue for the Europeans is that they want the ability to play Apple’s DRM on any music player. Apple doesn’t want to cave on this, because they stand to lose out if people buy non-iPod DAPs.

    If Apple opens up the DRM for licensing to others, they want to make sure they get something out of it. Perhaps Steve could wrangle a profit for every other DAP sold with the ability to play protected iTunes songs. This could potentially make up for some iPod sales losses but not all.

    The music industry certainly is asking Apple to open up, because they don’t want to lose a dime of sales. They figure without DRM, their profit goes down, because people will likely share content more easily.

    And we all know what lengths the music industry will go to maintain their profit margins.

  9. Ethan says:

    umijin, your viewpoint is flawed. Apple is being truthful in saying that they cannot license fairplay because it would all but void their ability to truly protect the music.

    You said that the reason Apple does not want to license fairplay is because they are concerned about losing iPod sales. The reason people are buying from the iTunes store is because they own an iPod, it is not that they bought iTunes store content so they were forced to buy an iPod to play their purchases. Apple would lose very few iPod sales if they began selling music without copy protection. Consumers choose a player first, and then a store.

    Besides, I can’t imagine anyone wanting any other player after owning an iPod.

  10. bgfay says:

    Ethan, I agree with some of what you said about the iPod. I think that there was someone, somewhere, once upon a time, who believed that if iTunes music was available for another player, iPod sales would dip. But the reality is that one of the very few drawbacks of the iPod is that it only works with the iTunes music store. I wonder if opening the iPod would make sense.

    That said, I’m reminded of Neal Stephenson’s “In the Beginning Was the Command Line” essay in which he maintained, correctly, that Apple is the most closed company in the world. It is serving them well right now, but I wonder if it works when it comes to something as ubiquitous as the iPod.

    As for umijin’s suggestion that media is not media, well, I don’t buy it. It’s all ones and zeroes and I there is no way it’s not all converging. Sure, we use movies differently than we use music and differently from books, art, and television. But they are all coming together in the same players and so treating them alike or at least akin to one another is probably only practical.

    I wonder why the EFF hasn’t weighed in on Steve’s letter yet.

  11. Wil M. says:

    I continue to emphasize that Apple is attempting to get rival manufacturer ‘buy-in’ on creating a solid eco-system in which FairPlay DRMed songs can be licensed and play succesfully on a multitude of players.

    Currently, Apple makes only pennies on each song from iTS, and it will continue to remain that way, however, Apple can also look to make money by licensing FairPlay to others.

    It is in Apple best interest to license FairPlay to other manufacturers because technology will soon (2-3 years) allow for a ‘workaround’ in which rival manufacturers will be able to play FairPlay music: Portable Media Players WILL SOON INCLUDE FULL VERSIONS OF OS’s, which will allow the user to install iTunes and play FairPlay media within a non-iPod device. Apple needs to get manufacturers so excited and invested in licensing FairPlay that the refrain from exploring the ‘OS’ option as soon as they otherwise would.

  12. Why should Apple have to license its Fairplay DRM? Why should Apple be responsible for spending the time and money required to keep people from stealing music on the ‘net when the labels are doing nothing themselves to keep people from ripping CDs?

    The advantages of buying from iTMS include immediacy, browsing the “record store” from your home office or living room, and being able to get the songs you want when you want them. I have had parties where I wanted / needed a series of songs and iTunes was the only legit pace to get them in the few minutes I had to spare.

    It could be argues that cover art is passe. It’s not uncommon for people to rip their entire CD collection to their iTunes Jukebox software, never to use their CDs or look at that artwork again. I myself threw out hundreds of CDs after riping them a few years ago. I can find out who played sax or who’s singing in the background more easily and in less time with my Mac on the ‘net than it would take to dig out my CD liner notes.

    For many people, habits are changing or have changed. Who uses CDs anymore? Not everyone. Fewer people every day, I would submit. Pretty soon many people won’t even want CDs.

    Also, quality is relative. Some people still maintain record albums sound better than CDs.

    Just because Apple owns the market by selling the best, most popular DAP ever created does not mean they should be responsible for spending their time and resources to sort out the music industry’s bootlegging issues!

  13. spatulated says:

    Said over and over again already, but i am with people who say movies and music are different. Most, 90%, of music isnt copy protecte. Removing DRM i feel will actually boost sales. DRM is the only reason i dont buy from Itunes and other stores.

    Now, i am all fro removing DRM on movies too, but steve isnt being a hypocrite on this one. not given the situation.

  14. koltonnaples says:

    Can you please post pic’s of the thing’s it will get to be a good site

  15. mekalo says:

    I think another point that Steve is trying to make is that the industry is forcing Apple (and all download sites)

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