Apple's Music Service, DRM & The Future.

I made my first purchase from iTunes Music last night. A remix version of Bob Dylan's “Everything Is Broken”. I tried yesterday in NYC to browse and purchase, but I think everyone had the same idea and Apple's site was slammed. I kept getting errors. No problems last night. The jury is out on the AAC code used for this purchased music. The bit rate is 128k where I'm used to encoding my MP3s at 256 or better. Of course my MP3 file sizes are enormous compared to an MP3 encoded at 128 or 160, but the lower bit rates sound like crap. AAC is supposed to keep file sizes lean while offering audio quality that matches or exceeds higher MP3 bit rates. If the promise is realized, kudos to Apple and Dolby for taking this leap.

I read on a forum somewhere that while you can burn the purchased music to a CD with no problem. And you can even then re import that song using the MP3 code. This would be something someone would try in order to share the newly encoded MP3 file with others using Kazaa or something. I haven't done this, but the word is the audio quality sucks — but then maybe that's what Kazaa users are used to. I prefer high quality.

Joi still isn't sold on Apple's proprietary service and questions Apple's locking/authorization scheme. I'm less concerned. The music I purchase can be transferred to unlimited number of iPods, I can burn the music to CD unlimited times as long as my playlists change (there's a 10 CD-burn limit of the same playlist). And while Joi, like me, is an early adopter, philosophically he has something against the DMR approach Apple and the record companies are taking toward this service. Still at 99¢ per song, a typical album/CD of say 14 songs (
Norah Jones Come Away With Me
disk, for example)
the cost would be $13.86. Today you can buy this CD at Amazon for $13.49. With standard shipping the cost delivered is $16.49 plus tax, if applicable. With overnight shipping the cost is $24.47. Or, you could use Amazon's in-store pickup program and buy it for $14.99. My total cost here in Southern California would be $16.15. So by purchasing from Apple I would save $2.29 off the lowest cost. Of course, I don't get the jewel case nor the printed insert. So Apple's iTunes Music service doesn't save any money per se. But it does offer a convenience, instant gratification and for now, novelty.

I think the important point to consider is the fact that Apple has convinced the record companies to do something that nobody else has been able to do. And that it wouldn't ever do itself. That is, stop whining and complaining about digital music and stop trying to protect your sacred ground as its being pulled out from under you by suing anything or anybody that impedes on its long over do virtual stronghold on music and other content. Or even today, the RIAA sent an instant message to Kazaa and Grokster users threatening legal action. And if were up to the record companies, I'm confident that they would prefer to simply offer hardcore copyrighted music that would be locked to a single computer with perhaps a single CD burn per song. One thing I'd like to see is the ability for new artists to get music posted to this or a branch of this service. Not unlike, but even better. Problem is with the big record companies tied in with Apple the content that is featured on the site becomes much like a listening post at Borders or Barnes & Noble: paid for by the record company. The artists getting pushed get more play and more sales. I would like to see the smaller labels represented and even the DIY musicians where much of the great music is originating from. So my call to Apple is to open the door and let artists participate. With 30 seconds of free listening, let the market decide which music it wants to listen to or buy. The promise of better music, more interesting music and different music can be made by a service like iTunes Music. Let's do it. Dave has some similar observations here.

In short, so while the service may not be perfect and it will still get the DRM opponents up in arms, it's sometimes best to look at the positive that comes from this infant called ITunes Music. It's the best option we have now. And like virtually everything else Apple has innovated, I'm confident we'll see copycats and other innovation. After all, competition is the spirit of the free market system. We can actively support, comment and get involved in what's next in digital distribution of entertainment. It's likely to get better and more interesting.