updated 04:45 pm EDT, Fri August 10, 2007
UMG Gauges non-iTunes
Universal's bid to try DRM-free music may simply be a way of testing how well the music label can survive in digital sales without relying on iTunes, according to a new report. Though Universal has now explained that the omission of the Apple store from the trial is to use it as a scientific control, Gizmodo's Matt Buchanan notes that Universal has omitted multiple larger music stores that could serve as better evidence of what selling unlocked songs might accomplish.
"If iTunes was the only control here, why isn't Zune [Marketplace] a part of the game?" he says. "Where's eMusic for that matter? Universal looks like it's angling to promiscuitize the digital music market — make the same music easily available from many sources that will play on any device — in order to make labels still matter."
Universal is also suspected of bending to pressure to follow EMI's lead in opening its catalog to most devices or players, though its preference for normally proprietary, non-Apple stores in the trial indicates that the company is being cautious or is again trying to grow the market for challengers to iTunes before selling its full collection to a wider range of stores. The iPod-friendly service is said to ultimately dictate what happens next, regardless of whether Universal or not decides its test has been effective.
"The real question is the iTunes question: What are the labels going to do about it?" Buchanan says.