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The Design of DRM-less Music

April 3rd, 2007 · No Comments


So why not make 99-cent 128-bit AAC tracks DRM free as well? We don’t think there’s an easy answer, but perhaps this is a move more tentative than people realize; this whole uncrippled music thing might just be an experiment.

It might be an experiment, but it might also be a question of design.

In the wake of Steve Jobs’ anti-DRM essay “Thoughts on Music” there was a lot of discussion about the possibility of Apple offering both DRM and DRM-free downloads in iTunes. The crux of the discussion was the customer experience that would result from offering multiple download formats.

Peter Lewis:

But how would this be communicated? A special “flag� icon to indicate format — that would not likely be noticed. A dialog box on purchase — people do not read them, and already ignore the current ones. The net result would be confused consumers wondering why some music they purchase works with their Zen and other purchased music will not play. Lots of angry customers. The result: a degrading of the iTunes Music Store experience and customer loyalty.

John Gruber:

I see no reason why Apple couldn’t devise a little icon to represent FairPlay-protected songs. But Peter Lewis is right that no matter what Apple does, it would only matter for iTunes users who are paying attention — and most users don’t pay attention.

By creating a higher cost “premium” offering in the form of higher bit-rate and DRM-free downloads, Apple has a solution for the customer experience problem. Apple couldn’t offer two downloads whose only distinguishing characteristic was the presence of absence of DRM without potential confusion — the two versions would be too similar in the eyes of customers who may only have a vague understanding of what DRM is. The higher price-point provides the missing discriminating factor, forcing customers to make an explicit distinction between the two in order to purchase the music they want. In fact, the increased bit-rate may exist solely to help justify the higher price-point and make it more appealing.

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