Thoughts on “Thoughts on Music”

On Tuesday, in an open letter Thoughts on Music, Steve Jobs responded (accidentally ;- ) to my prior post calling on Apple to license FairPlay to other device makers. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, as all the best propaganda is, covering a lot of ground concisely and persuasively. Other people have analysed Thoughts on Music in more detail than I care to; I’ll confine myself to three points.

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Five reasons Apple should license FairPlay

I have some very specific, personal reasons why I want to see Apple license their FairPlay Digital Rights Management (DRM) system to other device makers; I’ll publish those later this week. Here I want to lay out a logical argument for why Apple should do this, in their own best interests.

  1. Running into the wall of customers’ other (non-Apple) devices slows sales. Requiring people to give up things they like is more likely to lose sales than to convince them to buy new Apple stuff.

I’ve spent more than $400 on the iTunes Store, but I stopped buying FairPlay protected tracks 10 seconds after I realized they wouldn’t play over my new Sonos music system. And I won’t buy movies or TV shows from the iTunes Store because they can’t be played over the network via my TiVo.

I’m not going to buy an AirPort Express or an Apple TV for the privilege of buying content from the iTunes Store. Those devices do not work as well as my Sonos and TiVo, not even close. Instead, I’ll simply buy CDs, and keep my basic cable and Netflix subscriptions.

  1. Apple is going to have to do it eventually. Too much success means lawsuits and government action, neither of which is good for business.

With the success Apple has had with the iTunes Store, they have or will reach a level that some will consider a monopoly. That in turn will bring consumer lawsuits and government intervention. It’s already happening in Norway, the Netherlands, and other European states. There’s a U.S. iTunes lawsuit, too. This is a headache Apple doesn’t need.

  1. Apple is going to have to do it eventually. Too much success will turn the competitive market into “everyone but Apple.”

This happened to Microsoft. “Everyone but Microsoft” is constantly trying to make effective alliances, and constantly showing up to testify in lawsuits (see the previous item). While it hasn’t lead to Microsoft’s downfall, it has added drag to their momentum.

The efforts of Apple’s competitors have to date been pretty laughable, but when their current partners, the record companies, start saying they might consider selling music without DRM attached, it’s not because they’re happy with the status quo. Apple is so successful at selling music right now that Apple is in the driver’s seat, and that’s not something the recording industry has historically been good at accepting. At some point, “desperate times, desperate measures” will apply. And when your partners start conspiring against you, you’re fucked.

  1. Apple is apparently already doing it.

Apple has apparently already licensed FairPlay to NetGear. A step in the right direction. There is a rumor this is the first of many.

  1. People will like Apple more.

Customers. Partners. The market as a whole. Yeah, this is kind of touchy-feely, but if Apple opens up FairPlay voluntarily, before they are forced to, it will generate goodwill and positive buzz, and in the Internet age, that can spread pretty far and wide. Remember that the iPod didn’t start out as an iconic device, and a large part of its spread and success came from the same people who will be happy to see FairPlay opened up.