It’s been a big week in digital music, and I spent some time yesterday playing around and enjoying it. Not everything I did was new…I bought some music from the Amie Street music store, which has been around for awhile now. But things have changed…Amazon’s entry into this space, in my (and many others) opinion is the straw that’s going to break the back of DRM in the music industry. It’s the beginning of the end.
Amazon’s made most of the right moves here. They have a great brand already that people know and trust, and they used it rather than buying or creating some other service. (Though the URL sucks to copy and paste…can anyone find a short one that resolves, or am I going to have to tinyurl it?) MP3s, of course; no worries with format compatibility or player license renewal. And while I’m not the world’s biggest fan of their little helper download app (why not just a zip?), the purpose appears to be to help iTunes and WMP users seamlessly integrate the music into their libraries, and that is a good idea.
In a development that might appear at first glance to be unrelated, Apple’s newest iPhone update is removing unauthorized 3rd party apps and has potentially bricked some unlocked phones (it’s possible this is eventually fixable…one can hope, for the sake of the device owners). Note: I don’t think it’s illegal for Apple to do this, based on the Terms of Service…it’s just a bad deal for their customers. And it’s about control, which is how it relates to the earlier points.
Amazon has made a business calculation that reducing their control over their customers will increase customer satisfaction in a way that will ultimately increase profitability. It’s a great move, IMO, and it brings Amazon into good company with folks like Magnatune, MP3tunes, Amie Street, and eMusic. One could argubably add Apple to that group as well, since they’re selling MP3s…but I don’t.
Apple’s focus on consumer satisfaction is legendary, but they do it by increasing their control, not reducing it. In my opinion, they’re slowly, slowly painting themselves into a corner that will be really hard to get out of. The iTunes music experience (player, iTunes app, iTMS) is a wonder, as long as you’re following all the rules…which are MOSTLY pretty easy to follow. But step outside the boundaries, add unauthorized apps to a player, hack on your library db, etc…and you’re on your own. Uncool. Companies like Neuros, Chumby, and OpenMoko are where I hope the future lies; hardware companies that aren’t afraid to give the customer control of what they buy. Economies of scale presently give the price advantage to folks like Apple, who can outscale their open hardware competitors, but that gap is ever-diminishing. As it does, more and more people wake up to the advantages of owning, REALLY owning, their own stuff.
And as things change, you can look to the Free Software world to see where this leads us. Great operating systems, applications of all kinds, and development frameworks that are unencumbered by control. We get innovation and choice.
In the meantime, I’ll be over here, re-discovering some old favorite songs at Amazon, and trying out new artists at places like Amie Street and Magnatune. I still listen to more podcasts than anything else, but having increasing amounts of music that I can control is great. And I like to code to music, vs. podcasts…isn’t choice great?
UPDATE — Here’s a couple of links to share my…um…eclectic? (I like that better than just saying haphazard) musical tastes: