Sat 10 Jan
A bit of back-of-the-envelope math shows that it’ll cost me something like US$60 to upgrade all of my iTunes music purchases to the DRM-free iTunes Plus format. I know, I know. A lot of folks out there will wag a finger and say I should’ve stayed away from buying rights-crippled songs in the first place.
In my defense, I was always skeptical of the iTunes Store and, like the old fogey I am, tried to buy physical compact discs whenever I could. But there was a period of two or three years there when well-meaning people in my life kept giving me iTunes Store gift cards. Of course, as we’re all learning even if we hadn’t realized it before, gift cards are a kind of trap, so it was unavoidable that I eventually accrued a stash of the iTunes Store’s hobbled tracks, in spite of my efforts.
Somewhat understandably then, the upgrade fee burns me a bit. This is mostly because of the way songs from the iTunes Store are limited — in an additive method, not a subtractive method. I pejoratively regard DRM’d goods as broken, but not in that the goods are missing anything. The core of what I need is there; it’s just that there’s an extra layer of restrictions added. All Apple has to do is help me remove the offending code, rather than trade the tracks back in for new ones. As various pirate projects have proven in the past, this is entirely doable so long as DRM cops don’t stand in the way.
Looking further ahead, in order to protect my investment it seems as if I may have to upgrade these tracks, eventually. The key to DRM as Apple implemented it is that it’s centralized; for the tracks to play Apple must continue to operate its authentication service. Now that the company is clearly moving away from DRM, how long can I expect it to maintain that service? Over time, it will inevitably become less and less profitable and more and more of an annoyance to the good folks in Cupertino. And like any network-enabled service, especially one with virtually no revenue growth on its roadmap, it’s susceptible to being shut down at any given point in time.
Of course, I could wait it out and see if, after a few years when Apple tires of supporting these tracks, the company makes some close-out offer of reduced-price upgrades before turning off the lights. But since most of the songs I’ve bought are not from the ‘front catalog,’ it grates me even more that new customers are buying the same songs today for the new, reduced ‘back catalog’ price of US$0.69 each — and getting more usage rights than I got at US$0.99.
As a compromise, I think Apple should offer some threshold at which their per-track upgrade pricing becomes flat pricing. If your upgrade bill amounts to more than say US$20, I say Apple should just let you upgrade your whole library for that total without continuing to rack up per-track fees. The only serious cost involved here is the bandwidth necessary to transfer the tracks, but I’m guessing that’s negligible for Apple beyond US$20 or so. Oh, and there’s the cost that major label recording companies insist on collecting anytime their customers do anything at all with the music they’ve bought. There’s always that.