It’s been a long time coming, but as of January 2008, EMI, Universal, Warner, and Sony BMG have all agreed to begin selling their music without DRM through various outlets, however EMI remains the only label of the “big four” to do so through the iTunes store. It would seem inevitable that the 3 remaining holdouts of the “big four” labels will allow Apple to begin selling their music without DRM on iTunes as well, but given the animosity between Apple and the music industry is it possible that Apple is being punished for their grip on the digital music market?
There is no doubt that the music industry is not happy with Apple. Between the massive success of the iPod and the 4 billion+ tracks sold on the iTunes store, Apple has quite a bit of power over the digital music industry. Apple has in the past used this market position to keep pricing reasonable, keep DRM reasonable and make sure things remain relatively fair for users. The music industry on the other hand, has long wanted more restrictive DRM, higher prices per song, and variable song pricing, none of which Apple has allowed to happen. Some have speculated that in order to get out from under Apples thumb, the big four labels were even willing to do away with DRM as a means of getting music into the iPod and its huge marketshare without going through iTunes.
Given how protective Apple is of their future plans, it’s hard to tell what’s going on. It may be that Apple wants to reserve the upcoming move away from DRM until such time that all tracks can be released at once instead of bit by bit. Apple historically has kept new products secret until the big announcement, which then become available for sale immediately afterward. The recent introduction of the Macbook Air is a good example, the minute Jobs was done showing it off at Macworld, it was on the Apple store for pre-ordering. Prior to that point Apple gave no indication whatsoever that the company was even working on a new laptop.
Aside from DRM, iTunes Plus also signaled a move toward higher quality audio. For quite some time there has been a push for high bitrate AAC or even “lossless” audio on the iTunes store, with some users saying that 128kbps AAC wasn’t enough. Now that 256kbps AAC is becoming the standard on iTunes, lossless audio may be pushed back even further since most users will be satisfied by the new higher bitrate AAC format.
Is 256kbps enough?