A hush has fallen over the music industry. It may be the hush of anticipation prior to the birth of an heir who will lead the kingdom to a new golden age, or it may be the calm before the onslaught of the perfect storm.
DRM (Digital Rights Management)--which may be the baby, or it may be the bath water, it depends on who you ask--appears to be on its way out, at least for music. First, Apple and EMI announced an agreement to sell DRM-free digital music files beginning this month. Consumers will pay about 30 percent more for DRM-free music, but there already are many precedents where consumers prove willing to pay more to have something left out of a product. Exhibit A: bottled water. I rest my case.
Last week Amazon.com announced that later this year it will launch a downloadable digital music service that will feature DRM-free music playable on any device. EMI, the fourth largest music company in the U.S. market and one that has been struggling financially of late, has decided to shoot the rapids and sign a deal with Amazon to supply nearly its entire catalog only in DRM-free format.
This one-two punch from Apple (whose iTunes store is the current leader in downloadable digital music) and Amazon (the current leader in online CD sales) may knockout and retire DRM.
If DRM is cruisin' for a bruisin' the question becomes: How will it fall? Will it fall with the sublime beauty of a breaking wave, ending in froth and foam? Will it fall like the Berlin Wall, amid capering and general revelry, touched lightly but perceptibly by a reaffirmation in the perfectibility of humankind? Or will it end slowly and inconclusively, like fading fallout shelter signs that linger at the edge of perception and consciousness until what began as a shared response to fear evolves into the stuff of intergenerational mirth?
If DRM schemes for digital music become extinct, will other types of digital content, such as electronic books, electronic articles, digital videos, and digital audio books, become liberated soon, too? That could be a great boon for libraries and library users. I, for one, crave such a boon.