Gruber on DRM free music, Amazon, and iTunes:
If your music doesn’t play on iPods, it isn’t going to sell. And so if (a) you refuse to sell music downloads without DRM; and (b) no other DRM system other than Apple’s is compatible with iPods; then we’re left with a situation where the only successful store is going to be iTunes. What Universal and EMI now seem to have learned, at long last, is that (b) is completely under Apple’s control; only (a) — the labels’ own willingness to allow their music to be sold without DRM — is under their control.

Danged if Gruber doesn't get it right again. Your choices are Apple styled DRM or DRMless music at this point.

Apple’s FairPlay DRM isn’t (at least primarily) some sort of lock-in scheme to force people to buy iPods; FairPlay was a requirement stipulated by the labels

This statement requires some consideration. Why the heck is Apple for DRM-less music? Is it because they figured out well ahead of the game what Gruber only just discovered, that your choices are either FairPlay or DRM-free music? The open letter from Jobs supporting DRM free music would then just be an attempt to save face. Why allow the record companies to position DRM free music as the alternative to Apple? Why not make the idea to create a DRM free option yours as well? There's got to be some goodwill gained from taking what looks like the moral high ground of DRM free music, even if it's only a PR-motivated business decision.

EMI is already selling DRM-free music through iTunes, as the only label from the big four participating in Apple’s iTunes Plus. Universal, on the other hand, isn’t selling DRM-free music through iTunes. If you want DRM-free music from Universal, you can only get it at Amazon.

Now I gotta admit, I really like what Universal is doing. Gruber says that Universal's selling DRM free music at Amazon and not on iTunes is "particularly hardline — if not outright spiteful." Well, I think Gruber just spent this entire post arguing that Universal is doing exactly what the market suggests that they should. Amazon is the company to build an online store that will work as well as iTunes. And we now know that DRM free is the only alternative to Apple's DRM. How can Universal do its best to steer some business Amazon's way -- or, rather, away from iTunes? (Strange how we don't call it the iTMS or iTunes Music Store much any more. The application is now about selling music? Even if you turn the ministore off, I guess iTunes == store for Apple these days. Our smart playlist creation options haven't really gotten much better lately, as one example of how the playback functionality hasn't really improved in obvious ways.)

Again, if you want to grow competition to Apple's majority position, how do you give Amazon's store some sort of competitive advantage? You sure as heck can't go subscription model; that's been tried and failed over and over. You've got just one choice -- as long as FairPlay-only is an option at Apple, you go exclusively with (b) on iTunes and let the competitors get (a). All other things equal, DRM free is better, isn't it? Keeping DRM free "not Apple" is the only barginning chip the music companies have, so why isn't it just business for Universal to flex that small muscle?

It'll come as no surprise that I think DRM free is a lot better. I usually check Amazon first when buying music now. I was already dropping by to see used CD prices before buying from iTunes to see if I could save a buck or four, even with shipping. Now I buy my digital music downloads there in case I ever want to leave my iPod behind. Coby makes mp3 players for about $10, for heaven's sake. It's not about piracy. It's about player choice. Heck, Apple could go belly up any second now. (Okay, that's obviously a lie, but if the stock keeps dropping like it has in the last month and a half they won't make it to summer.) More serious for me is the inability to play AAC on my car's mp3 disc player. That stinks. I'm too lazy to burn protected AAC to CD, rip to mp3, and replace the AAC files. It's all about barriers to entry, my friends.

The only kicker? Well, even Amazon is smart enough to seamlessly add your music to iTunes by default once it's downloaded. They're not dumb enough to think they could create their own iTunes clone and go in for the absolute kill. The winner and champ is as it's always been...

PS -- "“MP3” is a concise way of saying “DRM-free”." Man, what FUD. I hate the mp3 format in theory. What could ogg do to get a little play?