The DRM-free music movement just gained a new convert from one of the major labels. Warner Music Group is now selling songs from its digital catalog (Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day) on Amazon’s DRM-free digital music store, joining EMI, Universal Music Group, and about 33,000 independent labels. That brings Amazon’s total digital music catalog up to 2.9 million songs. Apple’s iTunes, in contrast, sells more than 6 million tracks, but offers DRM-free songs only from EMI.
By going with Amazon first on DRM-free tunes, Warner Music is snubbing Apple much like Universal Music Group did earlier in the year. The music labels don’t like the power Apple has gained over them and seem to be supporting Amazon and other digital distribution outlets in an attempt to gain the upper hand once again. Amazon allows variable pricing (Apple does not), although most tracks sell for $0.89 to $0.99. And Apple has had to follow Amazon on the pricing of DRM-free tracks. When it launched with EMI last April, Apple tried to price the tracks at a 30 percent premium to its copyright-protected music, trying to justify the move by offering higher-fidelity files than regular MP3s. The strange pricing left consumers scratching their heads, and once Amazon introduced the same tracks without DRM in high-bitrate MP3 form, Apple had to match the price.
As DRM-free music, which does not come with all the annoying and ineffectual restrictions of copyright-protected tunes, becomes more popular, you can expect the labels to use their acquiescence as a bargaining chip with Apple. The annual MacWorld conference later this month would be an ideal time for Apple to announce more DRM-free partners, but you don’t hear a lot about that in the Apple rumor mill.