Free Music! iTunes v. Everyone

DRM free music as well as free of cost… It seems to me that Apple is forcing everyone’s hand to try new and interesting tactics like dropping DRM and not because of no open letter but because of the iTunes Music Stores’ utter dominance of the market. Companies have tried and tried and tried to use different DRM and different collaborations but no one has made a dent. So now these companies are so desperate that they have to do something they really hate to do… give their customers something genuinely good for them! Who doesn’t love competition?

That’s right. So after the open letter (whether it caused it or not) EMI opened up the doors to selling DRM free music on the iTMS and elsewhere. Then Amazon quickly stepped in with their brand new MP3 store and started selling EMI and Universal tracks (which are not, as far as I know available on the iTMS without DRM).

Now it seems like there’s a whole lotta music news hitting the scenes and it’s all good news for us. First Amazon announced that they were giving away 1 billion MP3’s in a Super Bowl promotion with Pepsi. Amazon has asked all the major labels to participate in this not just EMI and Universal. That’s pressure enough, but there’s more…

Wal-mart is adding to the pressure by getting rid of DRM in their online music store. They’re pressuring the labels to go DRM free and when Wal-Mart (which represents a significant portion of all CD’s sold) dials you up you take the call and listen carefully.

And interestingly Nokia is entering the fray with their “Nokia comes with music” campaign. Nokia is saying that they’re going to be offering a subscription service with a twist. So you get a phone and a free 1 year subscription, the twist is that unlike other sub services (all failures because who wants to lose their whole library if they cancel the subscription??), after a year you keep all the music you downloaded.

During the event the company announced Nokia Comes With Music, a revolutionary program that enables people to buy a Nokia device with a year of unlimited access to millions of tracks from a range of great artists – past, present and future. Once the year is complete, customers can keep all their music without having to worry about it disappearing when their subscription is over.

Sadly Nokia is saddling this thing not only with DRM but with PlaysForSure, Microsoft made it and they don’t even use it anymore! Other craziness is that to renew your subscription you need to buy a new Nokia Comes With Music device – which you’d have to do anyway since the DRM effectively ties you to only playing your music on those devices – I mean, who’s still using PlaysForSure when even the Zune doesn’t support it? Still it’s an interesting take on the model – one doomed to failure, sure, but it’s pushing some boundaries and that’s important.

In everyone’s battle against the iTunes Music Store these would be competitors need to keep upping the stakes to try and win over any customers. As the labels become more and more desperate to wrest some of the power away from Apple they’re becoming more and more ok with giving their customers what they want. I don’t know who’s going to win this face-off but I’m certainly enjoying the fallout.

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