Breaking the shackles of DRM
And so Vodafone has bid farewell to DRM. The company has signed deals with Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Music to offer their tracks and albums DRM free across Vodafone markets for both mobile phones and PCs.
Good old DRM, eh? There was a time when Having DRM was The Big Thing in mobile music. When full-track downloads first became technically viable, the major labels wouldn’t cut deals with the operators because they weren’t convinced that their DRM solutions were up to the job (oh, and the fact that they wanted a far greater percentage of revenues per download than the operators were prepared to give them, but let’s gloss over that for the time being).
The result was that, in most markets, it took several years before the labels – increasingly perturbed at the fact that everyone seemed to making money from mobile music services except them – finally began making their catalogues available to tier 1 operators, all nicely locked up behind DRM solutions which had ticked the required boxes.
And those labels still weren’t making much money, because people were now fed up of having to pay twice for content and if they played full-track downloads on the handset at all, those full-tracks were usually sideloaded from the PC, from where they’d previously been downloaded from a hooky warez site.
The latest annual report from the IFPI estimated that around 95% of tracks are downloaded illegally. The problem is not going to go away: at the end of last year I spoke with Luke Magnusson, International Product marketing Manager at T-Mobile for our Mobile Music report. Magnusson told me that the challenge for mobile service providers is not necessarily with online music stores, but with the pirates, and that challenge is to make the content and the user experience sufficiently compelling that the user will opt for some form of paid-for content rather than pull the tracks from a warez site. And as I see it, that challenge can be addressed at least in part by removing the DRM hurdle from the equation and effectively saying: if you’ve purchased this track once, then you won’t need to purchase it again in any format for any of your devices.
Apple were the first to realize this, and after some fairly long and arduous arguments, they got the labels to come round, and all tracks on iTunes will be available in a DRM-free format from next month. Now Vodafone has got the message that Not Having DRM is now mobile music’s Big Thing. Who’s next?