Attack of the Amazons
It's a simple equation -- make digital music interoperable and more people will sell it.
That's the message coming out of Amazon.com's long-expected revelation that it will soon launch a digital music service focusing on DRM-free music. What made this possible? Simple, EMI.
Sure Amazon's service will play second-fiddle to iTunes so long as it lacks content form the other major labels, but that's fine by Amazon. It can afford to take its time and work out the kinks of its service until the other labels fall in line. Amazon has a fiercely loyal customer base and is one of the top providers of iPods on the planet. If it packages its digital music service in a way that complements its other sales activities, it could wind up a major player. Bigger than iTunes? Probably not, but so what?
Look, the point is not to unseat iTunes. The point is to sell more digital music, which today is still not making up for the decline of CD sales. Who cares if iTunes is No. 1 and Amazon No. 2? The issue is volume, and Apple can't generate the volume needed all by itself.
That's the whole point behind this DRM debate. Some pundits claim other major labels will now watch closely whether Apple sells more music as a result of offering non-DRM files. Not if they're smart they won't. Instead, they should measure how well EMI's digital sales do in aggregate.
The real test will be when EMI starts selling DRM-free songs on MySpace, where Warner Music Group has already agreed to provide its catalog in a protected format. EMI versus the others on iTunes is a tough measurement because iTunes users have already shown some acceptance for the closed Apple system. MySpace meanwhile has been DRM free all along, and targets a highly desirable user base.
The question is whether EMI will have time to finish its experiment. The company is clearly on the selling block, with one potential buyer being longtime suitor Warner Music Group. Should WMG ultimately acquire EMI, say goodbye to DRM-free music.
The amount of news that anything related to the iPod or iPhone can generate, no matter how trivial it may be, is a testament to how lazy we in press truly are.
Tech blog Engadget this week posted a supposedly internal memo from Apple stating that the iPhone could be delayed until October, sparking a mass replication of the story throughout both the blog and mainstream press. While an iPhone delay certainly is not a trivial item, it is at least worth doing a bit of follow-up legwork before just blindly repeating the story. (Although to be fair, Apple PR is notorious for not responding to potentially negative stories, and in this case it burned them).
It turns out the e-mail was a hoax -- the iPhone is on schedule for launch next month as planned. But that didn't come to light before Apple's stock plummeted 2% the day the story broke.
Later this week, the iPhone gained FCC approval. Now every phone that has ever come to market must meet FCC approval before being made available to the public, yet even this rather mundane step generates headlines.
And for three straight days over the weekend, one of the top three headlines in the Google News tech section screamed that iPods can interfere with pacemakers.
OK, I get it... the iPod and iPhone are popular topics, but they're hardly the only devices out there. In the past, few if any iPod competitors deserved any more attention than they received, but that is no longer the case. As a subscription music service user, I'm particularly excited about the new Sansa Connect from SanDisk. Wireless access to a subscription music service is a huge step forward for the digital music field, but was one that generated very little attention by the press because, well, it's not an iPod.
It's good that news about digital music services and products have reached the mainstream, but it's time we start telling the whole story.