updated 02:05 pm EST, Thu November 8, 2007
7Digital on Death of DRM
The absence of digital rights management lockdowns on tracks is spurring a renaissance of legal online music downloads, according to a report from British direct-download service 7Digital. The company observes that the introduction unprotected MP3 versions of songs for sale through its site has encouraged users to buy more music than they would have in the past, including full albums. About 80 percent of tracks bought through the store now omit DRM; 70 percent of those sales are now for full albums rather than individual songs, company managing director Ben Drury says. The change comes despite a relatively limited catalog of DRM-free songs made available almost exclusively from music label EMI.
The shift is largely attributed to the ubiquitous nature of the format and the safety it brings for purchases. Buyers can purchase a full album knowing the tracks will play regardless of the device and have the option of backing up their collections an unlimited number of times. This option is also claimed as superior to similar offerings from iTunes Plus, as MP3 is more compatible than the AAC format chosen by Apple for its unprotected songs.
"People understand that MP3 works everywhere - that isn't true for AAC and certainly not for WMA," Drury says, referring also to protected Windows Media audio from 7Digital's own store as well as numerous competitors.
The executive also estimates that the popularity of unprotected songs is likely to pressure major labels beyond EMI into making non-DRM music a staple of their collections, especially when encoded at significantly higher bitrates that more closely resemble audio CDs. Sony BMG, Universal, and Warner will ultimately make the transition to unguarded music by summer of next year, Drury claims.
Universal has already made tentative steps towards such a strategy and is currently running a trial project that sees MP3 versions of its music library available through several notable online stores, including Amazon MP3. Apple is currently excluded from the deal under claims that it is a control in the experiment. The former has not revealed the ratio of iTunes Plus songs sold relative to versions protected with the company's proprietary FairPlay format.