Let this be a lesson to you, purveyors of online music. If you do DRM-lock digital music, be prepared to continue to support it well into the future, lest users rebel. Microsoft announced earlier this year that its MSN Music service, defunct now for some time and never terribly popular, would cease to function as of August 31, 2008. This would mean that people who bought tracks from MSN Music would no longer be able to authorize files to play on new PCs and devices. The only workaround: burn to CD and re-rip.
Even on a relatively unsuccessful service, though, that caused a major outcry. Result: Microsoft has backpedaled, extending the deadline to "at least the end of 2011" and possibly even beyond. (By then, you may have to appeal to our new robotic overlords anyway, after the Great Cyber Rebellion of August 4, 2011. Oops, sorry, the people of your time aren’t supposed to know about that yet.)
The lesson here seems clear to me: the cost of DRM is ultimately exacted on the vendor. It’s especially ironic as video sellers move toward more DRM rather than less, but DRM in music seems utterly dead. And whereas the DRM controversy began as a discussion of piracy issues, it’s now centered on sales. The simple fact of the matter is, online music has proven to have real profit potential, even if it’s been slow to catch up with the late 90s CD bubble. True, DRM does live on in subscription services, though I think the comparison there isn’t entirely valid — the point of subscription models is unlimited access to music, not necessarily building permanent collections. And even there, we’ve seen a migration away from DRM, as in the streaming/purchase model on Lala.com, which I examined earlier this month.
Tomorrow night, I’ll be attending the launch party for the Wax Poetics digital download store, and they’re a print magazine for vinyl buffs, for crying out loud. (Oh yeah — guess that bit about print and vinyl being dead was also wrong.)
Conventional wisdom: 0. Music lovers: score.