I’ve heard a bunch of stuff today about all of EMI’s tracks being available on iTunes without DRM. At first i was really happy, but 2 things kept me from being REALLY impressed.
First, these tracks are not mp3’s. Everyone is assuming they are, but they’re not. They are in a format called “unprotected AAC. ” For those of you who don’t know, AAC is a similar format to mp3 but to-date it is only used by MPEg4 players and Apple (it was partially developed by Apple). The format is understood by iPods and iTunes, but really nothing else. If you buy an unprotected AAC track, you can email it to whoever you want and listen to it on unlimited amount of computers. But, can you listen to it on the an iRiver player, the slick Samsung players or the nice Sandisk Sansa player? NOPE!
This is very clever strategic move by Apple. They have 2 objectives in mind by only offering AAC: 1) Get out of the legislation trouble they’re having in Europe which is asking them to open up thier DRM technology so other people can make iPod-like devices. 2) Try to keep the iPod as the go-to device for music. If they sold mp3’s they would solve problem 1 but then any player could be used with iTunes music. By making the tracks AAC, none of the competing players in the market today will work. Of course, new players can add AAC format compatibility in the future. But they have to license it. From who? – you guessed it: Apple!
The second thing that struck me as strange is that unprotected music is more expensive than protected. This is dumb. Sooner or later the labels will realize that people want convenience and value. There is a group of people who use the iTunes store. By making the unprotected tracks more expensive you’ll earn a few extra dollars from those users (and only those users) as they will prefer to have un-tethered music. But they won’t get the P2P fanatics. They won’t get anyone under the age of 25 to go to iTunes and buy a track. I’m not sure if 99 cents is low enough for an mp3, but i know that $1.30 is too expensive. It’s a shame. Sooner or later they’ll realize they aren’t going far enough, they aren’t getting new users with this model.
All this being said, it’s a step in the right direction and i can’t wait to see what the other labels do when they see that EMI unprotected tracks are MUCH more popular than the regular iTunes tracks.