Word on the street is that Universal Music is going to allow their songs to be downloaded as DRM-free, but only with non-iTunes music stores. So the tremendous1 number of consumers purchasing digital music from Wal-Mart, Google, Amazon, and RealNetworks will get interoperable music, and iTunes Store costumers will keep getting the same old only-works-on-iPods-and-now-iPhone digital tracks.
Um, Universal won’t sell DRM-free music through iTunes because they don’t like Apple’s DRM? WTF? Am I even supposed to pretend this makes sense?
The only thing that doesn’t make sense is that RealNetworks is still in business. Seriously, it’s the Alberto Gonzales of technology companies; no matter how much better off the entire world would be without it we can’t seem to get rid of it, in spite of it’s own incompetence.
But the Universal Music thing? That makes perfect sense. I doubt anyone at Universal Music actually cares about who has what DRM or how that DRM works. What they care about is that Apple has a veritable monopoly on digital music distribution. By providing non-DRM tracks — a “better” product — to everyone but iTunes Universal Music is undoubtedly hoping to encourage sales at those other stores, diminishing Apple’s control of the market.
Universal Music cannot lose in this situation. Either sales go up at the other stores (and Apple’s power goes down) or there’s no change (which I predict) and they’ve only lost a miniscule number of tracks to the DRM-less wilderness. In a “perfect” world — the one Slashdotters think they live in — consumers will flock to these other stores to get DRM-free music, and then the market will be evenly distributed amongst five or six different digital music distributors. With market share nicely divided, Universal Music will be able to demand whatever they want of them with little to no fear of pushback. The control would be in their hands again, rather than in Apple’s.
This is absolutely brilliant. Well played, Universal Music. It will fail, of course, because in the field of digital music not-Apple sucks, but hey, it’s worth a shot.