Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The end of DRM and a sentimental journey

As you've probably seen, Apple announced yesterday that it was all but eliminating DRM--digital rights management, the copy protection that tethered iTunes purchases to iPods--from music sold in the iTunes store. They also abandoned their monolithic pricing scheme, thus allowing record companies to charge more for high-demand music and less for the rest. The Harper Studio blog (which aptly dubbed publishing the record biz's younger sister in this regard) asks the important question, what about ebooks? Is this a precedent? (I think not, because this move had no effect on audio books on iTunes).

While all of this is fascinating, my real first reaction was to be transported momentarily to my childhood. Let me explain. I have a fair amount of iTunes music that I'd like to be able to play on a non-Apple player, so I was interested to see that you can "upgrade" your existing iTunes tracks to DRM-free files--for 1/3 their original price! I grumbled at this and then I remembered this wasn't my first experience with an expensive format "upgrade." I managed to make a fair bit of money converting my father's LP collection to cassette in the early 90s. I think I got a buck a tape.

I suppose, then, paying $50 bucks to update my own library is fair in comparison and karmically just, but it seems like something is lost in the impersonal ease of the process (you literally push a button and it's done). Upgrading my father's library took weeks, and his buck didn't come easy. Perhaps because he didn't want the constant reminder of this "upgrade" he insisted that I not record the sound of the needle falling at the beginning or being lifted at the end. He also combined more than one LP onto a tape where possible. The end result was I listened to much of what I was recording, and thus, it's probably not surprising then that a fair amount of the music I'll upgrade at a click of a button is music I recorded onto dozens of green 90-minute Maxell tapes when I was in sixth grade . . . .

(Awww. Is this the "warmth" of analog Neil Young is always yammering about?)