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The Ever Evolving World of Music Downloads


A few months ago, my esteemed editor made me promise not to discuss the digital copyrights fight in these margins. Actually, I believe the promise was not to launch another rant about the Recording Industry Association of America. So, other than that mention, I will stay away from the RIAA.

However, we will talk a little about digital rights, and that’s because the tide is shifting. I’d just like it on record that this is what I predicted years ago—in case anyone (besides me) is keeping score.

Amazon.com is now firmly entrenched in the No. 2 slot for online music sales behind only the ubiquitous iTunes. Amazon sells only unrestricted music, in terms of Digital Rights Management.

Meanwhile, Apple was forced to drop the price of its DRM-free music last year from $1.29 per song to $.99 per song to compete with Amazon, who’s been at that price point since it launched online music sales.

What’s really beautiful about this is the fact that the free market is what ultimately engineered this evolution. People want to be able to download a song and play it wherever they want—their computer, their iPod, their car. Maybe they don’t have an iPod and want to burn a CD and play that somewhere else. The point being, after years of labels trying to figure out how to sell more music while restricting rights, they’ve finally started to figure out that they can sell more by preserving rights.

In fact, the only thing keeping Apple in place is its unmatched ability to design hardware that people love. Users don’t mind the fact that they have to play the music on their Mac or their iPod.

It’s an interesting dichotomy between these two extremes, and proof positive in either case that the market will bear what the market will bear. Apple makes a premium product that people will support, even if it means forking over consumer rights. On the other side, there are just as many people who’d rather preserve those rights than bend to the label or manufacturer.

Ultimately, I believe the latter will win out. As more products enter the marketplace and people come to realize that they’re tired of Apple’s death grip on its proprietary formats, Apple will acquiesce. Need more proof? Witness the way Apple shifted its stance on third party application support on the iPhone last month—opening it up to the masses by providing a Software Development Kit for download to see what independent and corporate developers alike can wrought.

Meanwhile, if you’re downloading music (legally or otherwise), you need a broadband connection, and Comcast is the major provider in these parts. Kudos to the cable giant for coming to the table with consumers and BitTorrent and agreeing to use an “agnostic” approach to “traffic shaping.” What this means is that Comcast won’t be signaling out BitTorrent users for slowing speeds simply based on the application they’re using. On the flip side, Comcast still can improve, and could start by issuing a commitment to completely open and pervasive Net Neutrality.

There, my rant is finished. Now go download something cool.

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