The Freedom Premium

So now the announcement has been made. EMI Music launches DRM-free superior sound quality downloads across its entire digital repertoire.

I guess it’s safe to predict that the story will make No 1 at Technorati, so there are a zillion places for you to go to if you want the details. Instead of adding to that list, I want to concentrate on one key issue. The Freedom Premium.
SIMfree phones. Advertising-free digital content. DRM-free music and video. Device-independent anythings. Pollution-free anythings. They’re all the same thing. Either you put up with some corruption provided “free of charge”, or you pay for the freedom. A redemption price.

It’s not new. Today, if I want to buy a dishwasher that I can integrate into my kitchen cabinets, I have to pay more for that than I have to pay for the stand-alone device. Far more than is defensible in the context of shipping and packing costs. If I  want to unlist my phone number I have to pay for it, in most geographies. If I want an air ticket that can be transferred between airlines (or for that matter modified in any way) I have to pay.

The idea that freedom of movement (of digital goods) and freedom to change (digital contracts) are made available, but at a price, I find this idea reasonably appealing. Because this choice is more real than much of the snake oil we get offered today in the name of customer choice. I wonder how long it will be before someone gives me this equivalent for films, at least partially doing away with the nonsense that is Region Coding. Would I pay a premium for a Region Free DVD? Probably, as long as it’s a reasonable one.

Freedom at a price. Ironic, two hundred years after the abolition of the slave trade.

A coda. One of the things we have to watch out for is alluded to amongst the small print in the EMI news release:

EMI Music will continue to employ DRM as appropriate to enable innovative digital models such as subscription services (where users pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to music), super-distribution (allowing fans to share music with their friends) and time-limited downloads (such as those offered by ad-supported services).

The problem with that sort of statement is that it provides an opportunity for lock-in specialists to Trojan Horse their way back in, often without people realising the implied price.  So we have to be careful.

More later.

2 thoughts on “The Freedom Premium”

  1. Sure – we need to be careful with the last statement but subscription services are in essence a license to listen: you in no way own the media. If you do not own the media there has to be a mechanism to remove the media if the license is not paid. So some sort of DRM here is appropriate – the transaction is at the very least honest … would you not say?

    Removing DRM from tracks that you own has put honesty back into the transaction. (Previous was you owned the media but kind of didnt own it at the same time).

    The super-distribution is interesting, though. Any company would want to outsource its distribution to its own clients but at the same time they have every right to be compensated for use of the distributed media – i think (or I like to think) that these guys are thinking ahead, havent solved the problem but wish to retain the right to use DRM. Not sure how else this could be solved … yet!

  2. Maybe I’m getting old. I saw super-distribution as a way of endorsing models like Zune, of sharing tracks wirelessly with your friends but only within a closed domain.

    So let’s see what happens.

Let me know what you think