Audiobooks without DRM


“Our feeling is that D.R.M. is not actually doing anything to prevent piracy,” said Ms. McIntosh of Random House Audio. [From Publishers Phase Out Piracy Protection on Audio Books – New York Times]

What’s funny about the music industry and now the publishing industry taking these steps away from DRM is that this has all been done before! You don’t need to look any further than what happened with copy protected software… and things that you really want to take with you (like music, audiobooks and now movies) are even more likely to suffer from the problems people disliked about copy protected software.

Music, now audiobooks and even many ebooks are going DRM-free. How long will it take for movies to do the same?

Stupid lawsuit of the day: alleging monopoly practices for the iPod

Macworld | Apple music monopoly lawsuit seeks class-action status

It alleges that Apple has constricted the market by not enabling iPods to play content in the Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, Microsoft’s copy-protection technology. Further, Apple sells songs on the iTunes store with its own copy-protection technology, FairPlay, which is incompatible with music players other than the iPod.

The suit contends iPod-owning consumers can only buy music from iTunes, an unlawful tie-in that violates U.S. antitrust laws. Apple could license the WMA format for as little as US$0.03 per iPod, or for a total of $800,000 based on Apple’s 2005 iPod sales, the suit reads.

This lawsuit was filed on December 31 and seems like an attention getting maneuver to me. I like the “for as little as US$0.03” figure. I wonder how high the figure can go.

That said, it’s just plain false that iPod users can only buy music from iTunes. Just yesterday, I bought some music from Amazon. There’s also eMusic. Oh yeah, and I hear that you can still buy those antiquated shiny plastic disks.

The RIAA seems to be having some big strategy problems. They’re allowing Amazon to sell DRM free tracks, but not allowing Apple to do the same… hoping that this will break Apple’s stranglehold on the player and distribution markets. It’s like they fundamentally don’t understand DRM. If they let Apple sell DRM free tracks, that will only hasten the ability for people to choose other music players. Apple sells millions of songs a day, most of which are currently locked to iPods only because that’s the way the RIAA is requiring them to do it.

In fact, the lawsuit from Stacie Somers of San Diego seems so silly that it makes me wonder if the RIAA put her up to it.

Update: The same day that I read about this lawsuit, we see the news that Sony BMG is dropping DRM for Amazon. That means that Amazon will have all four major labels (plus large numbers of indies, I’m sure) doing DRM free music.

Update 2: In a I-can’t-believe-they’re-that-dumb move, Sony BMG has apparently announced that you have to go to a store to buy their DRM free tracks. WTF?

Mixer and Korg Wavestation EX for sale

OK, I promise that my blog is not going to just be filled with ads for random stuff that I’m selling. I actually have a programming-related article planned for sometime soon. In the meantime, though, hot on the heels of listing my desk on craigslist, I now have a DOD 1642 16-Channel Professional Sound Mixing Board and a Korg Wavestation EX keyboard for sale. Some people on eBay have started calling the Wavestation “vintage”. It’s always kind of scary when something that you bought new is now categorized as vintage. Alas, I’m old enough now that a fair number of things we’ve purchased over the years could qualify as vintage had I kept them. (TRS-80 Model III, anyone?)

Music gear for sale (effects processors, sampler, midi interface)

I’ve been a hobbyist musician for a while now. I’ve decided that it’s time to redo things in my studio a bit, and so I’ve got some gear up for sale on eBay. The auctions end next week, so there’s plenty of time to get in cheap.

Lexicon Vortex effects processor

Music Quest 8PortSE MIDI interface with Windows XP drivers

E-mu ESI-4000 Turbo sampler (with Zip drive, CD-ROM drive and a collection of CD-ROMs).

Ensoniq DP/4+ effects processor (4 separate DSPs with some nice sounding effects)

Tascam PB-32B and Hosa PHB-184 1/4″ patch bays (two in one auction… lots of ports!)

BBE Sonic Maximizer effects processor

Amazon launches MP3 service. Record labels are still dumb. has launched their awaited MP3 Download service. I don’t know if eMusic has such a thing, but one important feature that Amazon has is their song downloader tool. This tool automatically adds the new song to iTunes, which makes the experience of buying from Amazon as close to the seamless iTunes experience as possible.

Amazon wins points in my book for shipping DRM-free MP3 tracks. A couple of the major labels signed on with Amazon, but some of them held out on the foolish belief that DRM was actually doing something useful for their businesses.

I quickly discovered that Amazon has tracks in MP3 format that iTunes only offers in DRM-protected format. For example, Fall Out Boy’s Thnks fr th mmrs is only available as a standard iTunes track, not an iTunes Plus track. K.T. Tunstall’s “Suddenly I See” is available in iTunes Plus format for $1.29, but Amazon sells the same track for $0.89 in MP3 format.

Amazon’s catalog is reportedly a bit over 2 million tracks, whereas iTunes is at 6 million. Depending on the kind of music you buy, you’re likely to find some gaps in Amazon’s selection.

Right now, Amazon seems more likely a big new competitor to eMusic, the #2 download service. If Amazon manages to build out their selection more, it could pose a threat to iTunes domination (70%-plus in market share, from what I’ve read).

Update: John Gruber has similar praise and more detail about Amazon’s MP3 launch.

A day late and $1.20 short

I predicted that Apple would announce their premium, DRM-free tracks yesterday, since they tend to do music announcement on Tuesdays. I was off by a day: Apple Launches iTunes Plus

I logged into my iTunes account to check it out, and only four of my purchased songs are on participating labels (3 of which were by Coldplay). So, upgrading my library at this point was $1.20.

Today is the start of real competition in the online music and music player space.

DRM-free iTunes songs coming on Tuesday

You heard it here first.

(This isn’t a rumor by the way… just going on the fact that Apple said that the “premium” tracks were coming in May, and they tend to release new music-related stuff on Tuesdays. I figured I’d blog this as a record of my powers of prediction 🙂

The Beginning of the End of DRM

Apple and EMI have jointly announced new “premium” DRM-free tracks at iTunes: Mac Rumors: Apple/EMI Press Conference Coverage [Event Over]

Anyone who worked with software in the late 80s and early 90s would remember how common and annoying copy protection was in those days. The people paying the bills hated it, and it went away. It’s much the same with music today. People are trying to move their music around as they please and the DRM gets in the way of reasonable, lawful use.

And hats off to the clever marketers at Apple. These new “premium” tracks are encoded at twice the bitrate. So, you’re not just paying an extra $0.30 per song for restoration of your fair use. You’re paying for higher-quality encodings. And, the record labels get the price bump they’ve been wanting.

I’m curious what the full album price will be ($12.99?) If it’s too close to CDs, it would seem like a lot of people would just buy the CD which they can have DRM-free with lossless encoding and get the physical artifact to boot.

tunelog: music metadata extravaganza

The good folks of Frozen Bear bring us tunelog which gives you all kinds of social web 2.0 music metadata madness. It’s got a complete, documented API and can keep track of what you listen to in iTunes on Windows or Pandora, if you wish. They’re making good use of TurboGears, as the API supports both XML and JSON output.