UPDATE (January 2009): DRM-free iTunes music now available
Has Apple's iTunes Music Store had its day? Despite rumours that Apple would announce a DRM-free iTunes operation yesterday, nothing of the sort actually occurred. And a new review claims that Amazon MP3 is much, much better.
Macworld's Dan Moran says don't be surprised if a DRM-free iTunes doesn't happen anytime soon:
"The reason is simple: there is no reason. If that sounds like a spurious Zen koan, just look at the evidence. Apple is still the leading music retailer in the US, beating out even the brick-and-mortar chains. In the digital download market, its lead is even bigger. And the growth doesn't appear to be slowing, much less shrinking. Much as a vocal minority of consumers hate DRM and refuse to buy songs laden with it, they're still a minority: your average consumer doesn't know DRM from ERA."
And the arrival of a heavyweight like Amazon weighing in on the digital music download scene puts it under extreme pressure - especially as Amazon's Amazon MP3 music store does sell DRM-free MP3 tracks at cheaper prices and higher quality.
PC Advisor's indepth review of Amazon MP3 makes it clear that iTunes is under attack from a very tempting alternative.
In his verdict on the new Amazon store reviewer Simon Jary states that:
"While iTunes currently offers a greater depth of music - as well as movies and TV shows - Amazon MP3 is pretty certain to catch up. Its prices are erratic but I couldn't find one album there that was cheaper in iTunes.
"And some of the savings are dramatic, even on new releases. Combine that with the higher-quality compression and lack of DRM restrictions, and Amazon MP3 is a compelling alternative even for long-term, heavy iTunes users like me.
"iTunes works more seamlessly and is nicer to navigate but the price, quality and unrestricted nature of Amazon MP3 had me converted almost immediately," Jary concludes.
Moran, meanwhile, isn't so sure that Apple is under such attack and pooh-poohs the myth that a DRM-free service is the be all and end all:
"It's a different story for all those other digital music stores: Amazon, Napster, and Rhapsody all need to be selling DRM-free tracks as the price of admission. Without DRM-free tracks, anything you buy at those stores couldn't be played on an iPod, and without iPod support, those stores would just become yet another set of bygone civilizations now residing on the bottom of the ocean. On the one hand, the seafood's great; on the other, they don't exactly do a raging tourist business.
"The record companies know that and it's in their interest to keep those competitors around and at least marginally healthy, if only to keep Apple on its toes. But it's a win-win for the labels right now: they sell tracks by the commercial freighter-load via iTunes, and those folks who will under no circumstances pay for DRM-encoded music will either buy CDs or go to one of iTunes's competitors. Either way, the labels get paid. They've got no incentive to hand over the keys to the kingdom. The problem is that the iTunes Store is just too successful - and why mess with success?"