I’ve been absent here for a while because of final exams. My penultimate term of 5 long years at college is over. A week of spring break ensues, followed by 13th and final term at Drexel.
About a month ago, the news media was adrift with reports about 1 billion downloads from iTunes. $0.99 Billion of cash spent by consumers in just under 3 years. All this money was spent on music downloads that are encoded in Apples proprietary format with their own DRM. I do not own an iPod. I doubt I ever will. I certainly will never use iTunes as my choice of music provider.
I’ve followed the digital music scene for as long as I can remember. Back in 1998 when one could use services such as MP3.com and AudioGalaxy to freely download music, I was right there. Sure, it was illegal, but honestly I was 16 and didn’t know better. I had rarely ever paid for music before. If I wanted a song, I’d grab the audio cassette (remember those things?!?) from a friend and using the hifi stereo my parents had, I’d copy it onto a blank cassette of my own. Occasionally, my parents might buy me an audio-tape. Birthdays were always eagerly awaited because it probably meant 3-4 different tapes from various family/friends as gifts. As my internet connection and computer were upgraded, I started downloading music. It was painfully slow over a dial-up connection. I now had a CD-ROM drive and this meant I could rip audio-CDs that I borrowed. I built up my MP3 collection in this way. In my 12th grade, I remember making a presentation as part of my senior year graduation requirements. The topic I chose was titled: “MP3 – A Revolution”. But even then, I never quite fathomed the drastic changes that digital audio and video would bring to use as consumers of entertainment. A lot of the changes are for the better – better quality, more portability, and easier availability, just to mention a few. But one of the worst changes is DRM. And the worst proponent of DRM is Apple, with its iTunes + iPod combination.
Recently France passed legislation requiring Apple to open up its iTunes store to be compatible with other music player. Denmark is also thinking of something along the same lines. Go Europe! I think all those who are investing money into iTunes and its proprietary DRM are silly. These people are essentially betting that Apple and its music will be the format of the future. Sure, the way it’s going this may well be so. I’ve seen numbers floating around that 82% of all digital music sales belong to iTunes. But if there is one thing we need to learn from the history of economics, it is that no company lasts forever. What happens when that insane combination of a phone, camera, music and video-player is here? All those idiots who spent the 1 billion dollars on iTunes find themselves in the cold. Or they wait for Apple to release something like that.
Let me set the records straight before I am lambasted by all on sundry for being a pirate. I’m not opposed to DRM in general. There are some implementations that seem better than others. But iTunes is not one of them. The PlayForSure from Microsoft seems a little better in that they are making the effort to support a variety of devices and a variety of digital music stores, but according to the EFF they suck too.
But then that is what record labels are there for. To make you buy the same product over, and over, and over and over. First they sold it to you as a vinyl, then as an audio-cassette, then CDs, DVD-audio was briefly the thing, now digital, who knows what is next? But I’m not about to waste my dollars finding out. And God help you if you happen to lose your collection and are unable to download them again.
Personally, I still collect all my MP3s the good old way. I rip them from a CD into high-bit rate digital files that are crystal clear. I can move these around to how many ever computers I want. I can copy them to whatever digital music player I feel like. I pop them into a remixing software and play around with the beats. I can burn to a CD how many ever times I wish. Metallica be damned. Music is an artistic expression that needs to be shared with the world. Artists are due their royalty for creation once. Not repeatedly.
For those interested in more information, downhillbattle has a great site on the issue.