For a while back there I thought that Paul Thurrottt was gaining a clue, but I have to say that of late he’s become increasingly disconnected from the way that the world works. Take this recent posting on his blog (one that doesn’t invite comments, but that’s a format too), entitled Another View on Apple’s International iTunes Controversy:
I think it’s fair to say that no one ‘likes’ DRM. It’s also equally fair to say that no major content creators (music, TV, movie, books, whatever) would release digital versions of their wares without DRM, because of piracy fears. Working within the reality of this constraint, I’ve always felt that the ‘best’ (i.e. least restrictive) DRM scheme would win in an open market, but that’s not what’s happened: FairPlay is restricted only to iTunes and the iPod and shuts out competition.
First, it’s rubbish to say that no major content creator would release digital versions without DRM. As has been pointed out, the music companies do this every day: it’s called the CD. And the indie labels do it through eMusic: you can download Coldplay’s first two albums on eMusic, in MP3 format – no protection. The indie labels make up about one-third of the music business by artist. (But the big four have the distribution – often of the indie labels. That’s why indies like digital downloads: cuts out a middleman.)
Next, why should there be any particular driver to which DRM scheme wins, except by which company becomes the most widely adopted? Consumers don’t pick and choose between DRM systems (if they did, they’d not buy DVDs, which defeat easy copying and have region codes built in). They don’t say “Oh, I’ve heard such good things about Window Media Audio’s subscription service.” They consider the usability of the product. The iPod succeeded because it was, is a better device than its rivals. It applied very little DRM – and arguably more than other similar devices (remember, you can’t copy music between computers from an iPod). People don’t notice DRM until it bites them. Then, I’d say, they retreat from it.
Curiously, Microsoft’s more open system, which involves vast numbers of hardware makers and service providers, has fallen by the wayside. That’s the reason we’re having this debate now: Apple has essentially won the DRM wars, for now at least, and its dominant position is causing interoperability concerns, as it should.
I never understand this bit about “interoperability concerns”. You want to play music bought from the iTunes store on a non-Apple player? Download it, burn it to CD, re-encode it, load it on your non-iPod using whatever means it has to interface with your PC. I mean, WTHI is this rubbish? And what’s this trash too about “Microsoft’s more open system”? It’s not reached the Mac – no way can I subscribe to Napster. I can though get Fairplay on the Mac and Windows. How then is Microsoft *more* open? Apple’s stuff is available to a lot more potential consumers than Microsoft’s.
It’s also worth noting that DRM does make some interesting scenarios possible, including subscription services. No, subscription services haven’t taken off in a big way, but I bet they would if you could get such a thing on the iPod. However, FairPlay isn’t sophisticated enough to support such a thing (which Steve Jobs essentially admitted in his recent manifesto).
I’m not sure if he did “admit” this. Certainly there’s been no sign of FairPlay supporting subscriptions. But then if you look at Napster – up for sale since September, still no appparent suitors – there’s little sign of people wanting them either.
..So how do we fix all this? By simply doing that one thing I’ve been pushing for since FairPlay first reared its ugly head: Open up the iPod so that it works with other services, and open up iTunes so that it works with other devices.
I’m intrigued: what on earth would be Apple’s incentive to do this? If independent music labels can release their music without DRM for download, and the big music companies sell theirs without DRM (on CD), where’s the interoperability problem? Seriously, where is it? If most people are listening to stuff they’ve ripped from their CDs, what is the interoperability problem? AAC – in which iTunes by default encodes songs – is perfectly easy to license. Why don’t more digital music players use it?
The ‘how’ of this process is completely uninteresting to the consumers who will benefit from this move. That it will just work is really all anyone is asking for. I want a choice of music, TV, and movie services. And I want a choice of devices. Today, I’d pick Apple for much of that. In a truly competitive marketplace, however, that would be a choice and not a requirement. The needs of individuals should always trump the needs of corporations, and that can easily happen within the confines of the law, common sense, and the reality of the marketplace.”
See, this is where one has to worry that Mr Thurrott has lost touch with reality, marketplace-based or otherwise. You already can choose lots of music, TV and movie services. There are plenty in the UK, for example. Channel 4 has a TV service. American TV companies offer them. They use Windows DRM. Is that enough choice for you?
As for “the needs of individual should always trump the needs of corporations” – exactly what law do you intend to pass to make this utter fantasy come true?
Serious: he’s becoming more stupid by the day. I’d worry, but I have other stuff to do.