Digital Music

Is The March To DRM Free Stalled?

The last year has been filled with announcement after announcement marking the end of DRM.  DRM-free pioneer eMusic was thriving.  EMI dropped DRM across its entire catalog. Drm_anti_wall Indie after indie dropped. Universal launched and then expanded a DRM free "experiment" that now feels like  permannt policy shift. Amazon launched a DRM free mp3 store to great reviews and customer reaction.

But in the last 6 weeks, almost nothing new…Neither Sony BMG nor the Warner Music Group are even hinting that they will be dropping DRM anytime soon. 

Has the DRM free experiment failed?

The numbers are early and sketchy. Perhaps the holdouts are taking a wait and see attitude? But without universal adoption, you have confused consumers and digital providers uncertain which path to follow.

Every day that Sony BMG and WMG wait to start selling the same DRM free product that they already offer on CD available as downloads, is another day that consumer attitudes and habits become entrenched in a model that spells the end of the major labels. Going DRM free may not be the answer all of the label’s woes, but it regains consumer trust and enables the innovation that  could provide a path forward.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?  Is the march to DRM Free stalled?  What will happen next? 

Share on:


  1. I think this was a bit of a publicity stunt from the get go. Factoring out eMusic (never had DRM, never will,) Steve Jobs grandstanding was certainly as much corporate theater as it was anything to do with consumers and I think Uni’s thing was more a reaction to Apple and part of their ongoing tiff than anything else. Amazon saw this as their opening to gain some market share and ran with it.
    I’ve always contended the whole DRM thing is a red herring. I doubt 80% of the population had any idea what DRM was or why they should care before Jobs threw it out there. And I really think it’s just a handful of us who either are looking forward to the next latest and greatest PMP and don’t want to have to re-buy, those who own a non-compatible current player or people who follow this stuff anyway who actually care.
    So where do I think it’s going? I think they threw this out there and are just waiting for the returns. When the sales don’t add up to the mega-millions the industry thinks they are entitled to make, they can declare the whole thing a failure, stick a fork in it and go back to restricting people’s rights with something far more Draconian I’m sure they’re cooking up in the labs even as we speak.
    Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but I’ve never seen “the industry’s” heart into DRM free music, despite public chest beating about it from a few.

  2. iTunes + DRM = iPod Sales
    iTunes – DRM = MP3 Player Competition
    iTunes, The desktop application is now the proffered way for people to organize music. When you have a mix of tracks with DRM and tracks without DRM, the only logical choice for a player is the iPod; as most music with DRM is from Apple. As this mix tilts toward less DRM, the competitive landscape changes (MP3 players), and consumers will begin to consider alternative devices.
    If the majors want to try new models and device platforms they have to dump DRM. The alternative is to be stuck in a world where Apple continues to dominate the desktop and the pocket.
    2 Billion songs with Apple DRM ensures iPod sales for years to come…

  3. I think 6 weeks is not that much time in the real world. My guess is that not many people will be getting DRM-free downloads under the Christmas Tree no matter whether or not they are available, so this is not a high priority for Sony and friends.

  4. I haven’t bought a download ever, because mp3 isn’t lossless. If I spend money on a recording, I want the full sound quality. Therefore, I buy CDs – about new releases 30 a year, because I’m a music lover. There used to be DRM on CDs for a while, that made my computer reject them and hindered me from playing them on a portable. That was annoying. Luckily, the Sony BMG rootkit debacle has seemingly ended this practise.
    I’ve mostly been buying new CDs from independent artists over the web this year – in fact this year is the one during which I bought the least number of major label releases ever. And I’m under 30, in the core target audience of the 4 majors so to speak. So they clearly must have gotten things wrong in the A&R department. Anyway, with so many developments in different types of media either on the rise or sinking, it must be awfully hard to correlate any info on each of these out of the one single time series they have available: their sales figures. So I guess the majors are going to continue not having a clue of what’s going on.

  5. It’s far too early to make judge whether or not the move to MP3 has stalled. These are decisions with long-term implications and therefore will not be made in haste.
    Just having the largest and smallest of the four majors go with MP3 files has allowed to get off to a good start, and it has allowed new marketing opportunities that would not have existed with DRM. I think this is where the important momentum is going to come from, these new retailers and marketing opportunities that would not have been possible without MP3s. The best way to stifle entrepreneurial innovation is to require DRM on downloads. Once labels warm to this reality, they will opt for growth over control.

Comments are closed.