Moving the giants

iTunes now allows you to buy an album at a discount if you’ve already bought individual songs from that album. That is, if you’ve already bought a 99-cent song, you can get the rest of the album at a 99-cent discount. Bought two songs? 1.98 discount.

According to The Wall Street Journal, “…Apple negotiated agreements with its partners in the recording industry to offer its new album-purchasing service….” That pretty much means that Apple wanted to do it before but the music industry wouldn’t let them.

One of the things I’ve noticed about Apple’s handling of its dealings with the music industry is that they never want to do anything until all of the Big Four labels are on board with it. They probably made this deal with the labels one at a time, but they didn’t want to go to the public and say, “You can buy the rest of some of your albums!”, as that would A) confuse consumers, and B) rub it in the faces of the labels that had not yet agreed.

It’s probably a similar situation with allowing DRM-free (i.e. unlocked) music. Surely some of the independent labels would allow unlocked music, (and in fact much of the indie music you can buy locked on iTunes you can buy unlocked on other web sites), but Apple is not going to make that change until all four of the big boys agree to it.

Primary rule of business: Don’t advertise your warts. Thus, don’t do anything that forces you to point out what’s wrong with your system.

If they were to unlock just part of their music catalog, they would have to change the interface of the store, and ironically draw far more attention to the fact that they use DRM at all. As it is, I would guess that the vast majority of iTunes users never even notice the DRM. They buys songs, put them on their iPods or burn them to CDs, and possibly aren’t even aware that the locks are there. For Apple to have some songs locked and some unlocked, they would have to add some sort of icon or visual indicator to the various songs indicating whether they were locked or not, and then all those people would be forced to ask themselves “What does that little padlock symbol mean?” That is the last thing Steve Jobs wants his customers asking, no matter how much he would like to get rid of DRM altogether.

So this latest victory for Apple (and consumers) is a good illustration of the vision of Steve Jobs’ business model. If it were up to him these features would probably have been available long ago; but the reality is that he is, one step at a time, making huge changes in the business model of a multi-billion-dollar industry that is controlled by other people. It’s a herculean task in ways, and though it is taking time, Apple, Inc. is succeeding where others have failed miserably.

Update: Oh, suuure. The minute I write this Apple announces that they’re going to offer unlocked music from just one of the big four (EMI)

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