February 23, 2007

Cory Doctorow on Job’s Manifesto [7:38 am]

In re: Job’s call for DRM-free music, we get Cory’s take — a reminder that DRm has more than one function in the market: Steve Jobs’ iTunes dance

I doubt Jobs’ sincerity. I suspect he likes DRM because it creates an anti-competitive lock-in to Apple. I think he’s trying to shift blame for the much-criticized DRM to the music industry, whose executives are twirling their mustaches and declaring DRM to be the only way forward for their industry.

[...] Although Apple’s DRM is wholly ineffective at preventing copying, it does manage to raise the cost of switching from an iPod to a competing device. Every iTunes song you buy for 99 cents amounts to a 99 cent tax on switching from an iPod to a Zune. That’s because your iTunes songs won’t play on your Zune — or on any other player, save those made or licensed by Apple. Jobs tries to skate around this in his memo, suggesting that only a tiny fraction of the music on iPods comes from his music store, and so the anti-switching effects are minimal.

[...] Jobs is right. If you had 10 grand worth of proprietary music on your iPod, his company’s iTunes would be anti-competitive. But that’s not to say that $150 worth of lock-in (enough to double the cost of many portable players) isn’t a powerful disincentive against switching from the iPod. I’m a lifelong Apple fan boy — I have an actual Mac tattoo — but even I remember the dark time of the Performa, when Apple’s hardware trailed so far behind the market leaders that buying it was like wearing a hair shirt. I think that it’s reasonable to assume that Apple won’t always make the world’s best music player. I’d like to keep my options open. But the longer you own an iPod, the more likely it is you’ll buy more iTunes music, and the fewer options you’ll have.

[...] With DRM, the only way to get music that plays on all your devices, past and present, is to rip it off. If you buy DRM, you end up being part of someone’s business model, and a slave to the lock-in.

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