Universal Music — who are usually the most extreme piracyphobes in the music industry — have announced that they’re going to try selling much of their catalog without DRM from now until January. What caused them to change positions? Fear of an iPod Planet.
The iPod plays two kinds of music: music crippled with Apple’s DRM and MP3s. If you want to cripple your music with Apple’s DRM, you have to give Apple total control over your track-pricing. No other store can carry Apple-crippled music. Every time we buy an Apple-crippled track, it gets that much harder and more expensive to switch away from the iPod and iTunes.
For record companies, there are only two choices: sell Apple-crippled music and increase Apple’s control over the online music business, or sell uncrippled music. Uncrippled music — MP3s and other open files — are superior to the crippled versions. You can play them on more devices and do more with them. No customer seeks out music because it’s crippled — DRM doesn’t sell music. None of the iTunes customers bought music because they wanted music that was locked to the iPod and wouldn’t play on competing devices.