January 21, 2007
First it was Yahoo!’s Dave Goldberg, now Real’s Rob Glaser has called for an end to DRM on music downloads. At the Midem conference, Glaser reportedly stated that he is “seeing some signs the industry is open to … giving consumers a way to purchase music with the flexibility that you can only get if you take the DRM off…. For purchases, move away from DRM” (emphasis added). What common sense — when you buy music, you own it and should be able to make personal use of it however you want.
This is yet another sign that 2007 will be the year music DRM begins to fade. Glaser did suggest that music services should treat “rental” downloads differently, but will that line hold? I think not, principally for two reasons. First, the rental subscriptions are struggling mightily to gain subscribers, and customers won’t switch to DRMed rentals when they’re already used to unencumbered CDs and unencumbered online purchases. Selling consumers on the monthly subscription model is hard enough without DRM getting in the way.
Second, I am highly skeptical of the argument that the services need DRM because otherwise many users would simply sign up for a month, download a ton of music, and then cancel. Music fans who buy into the subscription model in the first place are precisely the sort who are likely to keep subscribing tomorrow, to keep the flood of music flowing onto their hard drive. What kind of music fan has an appetite for one million tracks today, but doesn’t care about getting the newest albums tomorrow? And why wouldn’t that sort of fan go to P2P, rather than deal with DRMed downloads? What’s more, using DRM isn’t the only way to address this potential problem — Rhapsody et al could allow people to stream all they want, but cap the number of monthly downloads to a reasonable number.
Glaser apparently thinks I’m wrong, but the bottom line is that the subscription model doesn’t by definition demand DRM. Just as the labels are finally starting to come around to MP3 purchases, I think they’ll eventually experiment with subscriptions minus the DRM.