Oh, Techwriterpaws

Nov 20th, 2008 // 7 Comments

jobslego.jpgIt’s always so cute when tech types get in a lather about one of their pet causes–here, it’s Greg Sandoval at CNet penning an open letter to Steve Jobs begging him to drop DRM on the files in the iTunes Store, which to his mind looks “a little shabby” these days because of Apple’s copy-protection scheme Fairplay–without thinking rationally about why they may be getting a zero instead of a coveted one. (I tried to put the analogy in binary terms so they’d get it.) To wit:

Did Sandoval ever think that maybe part of the reason Apple hasn’t closed DRM-related deals with the majors who aren’t EMI is said labels’ abject stubbornness, and unwillingness to play ball with a company who they feel has wrecked their whole “$17.99 single” model? Or did he ever think that, to put it bluntly, digital-rights management is one of the nichest of niche issues, and to most consumers it doesn’t matter much? And is Sandoval really holding up the Zune, which is as of this very moment touting a DRM-laden subscription model, as something that iTunes is an also-ran of? I understand what it’s like to have a news hole to fill during a lull in the cycle, dude, but next time, you might want to come up with some sort of crazy list that incorporates Cute Overload and shredding. At least then, you’ll get clicks instead of people thinking that you sound like a petulant (albeit dictionary-equipped) Digg user.

Dear Steve Jobs: Set the music free [CNet]

(Ugh, even that title! I can’t deal.)


  1. Chris Molanphy

    I had to write a comment (in my official capacity as an Idolator person) encouraging Sandoval to retract the story, because CNet gets read by a lot of people who don’t know any better, and there’s some baseline misinformation in there. Such a shame.

  2. dyfl

    You know, not to run counter to the point of this, since I really do love watching the tech-heads get their blinders kicked off, but this is a point where I have to agree on the core issue, if not the elements of the argument: I actually have stopped buying music from the iTunes Store, and it’s because there’s a DRM-free competitor who sells MP3s now (Amazon). If I want to put a song I buy online into a DJ mix, I don’t want to mess with the hassle of stripping it of its DRM — and even if I buy a DRM-free EMI song, it’s still delivered to me in AAC, which isn’t supported by as much software.

  3. Maura Johnston

    @dyfl: sure. but blaming jobs and jobs only? that’s just totally ignorant. it’s like he’s recycling his arguments from the period before the amazon mp3 store’s launch. (i also really hate amazon’s interface. i do use emusic when i can.)

  4. Chris Molanphy

    @dyfl: What Maura said. Sandoval has written half the story.

    If Jobs can be blamed for anything, it’s that he wants to have his cake and eat it too, in the sense that he wants the labels to both drop DRM and maintain the all-a-la-carte, all-99-cents sales model.

    Thing is, I want Jobs to have that cake, as well. I don’t like Fairplay, but I am far, far warier of letting the labels price their own singles ($3 downloads, here we come!) and tell me when a massive radio hit is “Album Only.”

    Backing down on those points is what it would take for Jobs to “negotiate” (Sandoval’s word) his way toward eliminating Fairplay. What does Sandoval think happens in these negotiations? Jobs throws in an all-expense-paid trip to the Bahamas to convince the labels to drop DRM? They want a giveback, and they want a big one — something we’ve all taken for granted at iTunes lo these five years. It won’t be something we’ll be happy to live without.

  5. revmatty

    The labels hate Apple for mostly sticking to his guns on single price. I think that the concept of buying music digitally is now mature enough that he could safely back off from that if he wanted, but he also is very aware that the goal of the labels is to make 99 cents the minimum for catalog tracks and charge 2.99 or more for hot current single songs (not ‘singles’ where you’d at least get a b-side or remix or something, but individual songs).

    I’m not wed to using iTunes Store, but I do go there first because the interface is mostly better. I’ve got a few quibbles about the search function, but it’s not like amazon’s is any better. As with most things, I buy from the vendor who has best price at the time I want to buy (with the caveat that it has to be a known good vendor, not some sketchy .ru site).

  6. AL

    @Maura Johnston: It seems like every other time I buy mp3s from Amazon, it makes me reinstall their downloader, even if the last time I used it was just a few days previous. They have a great selection and a lot of good deals, but I agree that the interface leaves a lot to be desired.

  7. DeeW

    @Maura Johnston: What Apple did for the music industry was (in large part) save it from a slow, painful demise. They took an old business model and made it more attractive to consumers. And no, Steve Jobs isn’t solely the blame for their DRM problems. FWIW, Sandoval has had a pretty timely history of being biased against iPods; whereas most people have a bias FOR iPods. Obviously, he incites a spirited argument.

    Most people don’t care about DRM, especially since iTunes is The King. But, DRM will be an issue should Apple stop issuing DRM keys, as they’ve threatened to do in the last month according to a story on this very site. If those servers go away, then the songs won’t work. I’m actually shocked that you didn’t write an angry post to Apple for threatening to do so.(Though I don’t think Apple actually would be so cruel.)

    Zune: For what it’s worth, Zune has the best music subscription model I’ve ever heard of. (In addition to their pay-per-track model) If iTunes offered one, then I’d be all over it! It’s an example of DRM being used very well – especially now that users can keep 10 songs they download per month even if they cancel their subscription (85-90% of which does NOT have DRM)! Not to mention each subscription can be legally split between 3 devices/3 accounts, so you can end up paying just $5 per month. In fact, I’d argue that Zune is now innovating more that iTunes. Too bad no one here seems to be willing to discuss to that objectively, though. :(

    Yes, it IS give and take, as I’m sure you know. But, none of us here should ever assume we know what goes down in those meetings: Not me, you nor Sandoval. It’s easy to take sides with a business we love, but it is still a business – and a smart, well-run one at that. (Remember, Apple just got a patent to DRM your iPod to your clothes and labels would prefer a subscription model over Apple’s model.) We don’t know whose fault it is! Neither is innocent.


    P.S. I’m too damn long-winded ;)

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