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Universal no-DRM deal gauging non-iTunes sales?

updated 04:45 pm EDT, Fri August 10, 2007

UMG Gauges non-iTunes

Universal's bid to try DRM-free music may simply be a way of testing how well the music label can survive in digital sales without relying on iTunes, according to a new report. Though Universal has now explained that the omission of the Apple store from the trial is to use it as a scientific control, Gizmodo's Matt Buchanan notes that Universal has omitted multiple larger music stores that could serve as better evidence of what selling unlocked songs might accomplish.

"If iTunes was the only control here, why isn't Zune [Marketplace] a part of the game?" he says. "Where's eMusic for that matter? Universal looks like it's angling to promiscuitize the digital music market -- make the same music easily available from many sources that will play on any device -- in order to make labels still matter."

Universal is also suspected of bending to pressure to follow EMI's lead in opening its catalog to most devices or players, though its preference for normally proprietary, non-Apple stores in the trial indicates that the company is being cautious or is again trying to grow the market for challengers to iTunes before selling its full collection to a wider range of stores. The iPod-friendly service is said to ultimately dictate what happens next, regardless of whether Universal or not decides its test has been effective.

"The real question is the iTunes question: What are the labels going to do about it?" Buchanan says.

by MacNN Staff




  1. ff11

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Cutting off their noses

    So Universal has essentially barred over 80% of the digital-music-buying public from their product?

    They are not fighting Apple, they are fighting their customers. That is a fight no business should pick.

    Whether a piece of music goes on my iPod or not is a function of how much I like it and how easy it is for me to get. Universal has forced me into buying their music only if I REALLY, REALLY want it.

  1. ZinkDifferent

    Joined: Dec 1969


    wrong emphasis...

    Essentially, what Universal really just did, is make it easier for me to decide to pirate their music, and download it from non-legit providers (including If I want a piece of music on a Universal label, all it means is that it will be easier for me to download it from, at a fraction of Universal's cost, than getting it legitimately.

    Nice going, Universal, and WAY to go, to really stick it to yourself!

  1. Frogmella

    Joined: Dec 1969


    ipod friendly

    "So Universal has essentially barred over 80% of the digital-music-buying public from their product?"

    Not the way I read it - by including MP3 based stores (i.e. not (just) WMA), it would be trivial to buy music from there and import into iTunes/iPod.

    Which kind of defeats one of the objects of the trial: they have no way of knowing how many people are using this music on iPods - and would therefore presumably rather purchase it directly as iTunes Plus.

  1. dynsight

    Joined: Dec 1969


    zink is no thief

    I rarely respond directly, but zinkdifferent, we know you are not a thief. Universal is doing a test. So what if they eventually wish to pull out of iTunes? if you wish to use your iPod and iTunes, just drag the files in.

    'nuff said.

    Sure it is easier to pirate, but why should you? I am sure that there are some that like to be 'cool' and steal music, but to me, these are just trogs. Pay for the music. Not only does it help the musicians, it does help the studios.

    And before you call them a bunch of rich executives raping the consumer, they employ a lot of technicians, editors, secretaries, IT people...

    I am sure I will get flamed, but I never did understand why people would steal software and music, or proudly admit it on a forum.

  1. vasic

    Joined: Dec 1969


    missing the point

    Let's make sure eveyone here understands exactly what's going on.

    Universal is NOT pulling its catalogue from iTMS. If you want to buy 50 Cent (or U2, or Andrea Bocelli, or Elton John), you can go to iTMS and pay 99 cents for it. You will NOT be able to get better quality, DRM-free from iTMS.

    You WILL be able to get them DRM-free from Universal, though, if you wish.

    If all works well for Apple, this little experiment should tell Universal that:

    Very few people will go buying Universal's DRM-free MP3 files directly from them; Vast majority of people will continue to buy Universal's music from iTMS, with DRM, for 99 cents.

    If Universal people have any brains, they will conclude that:

    1. iTMS is the only elegant, easy to use solution for buying music, DRM or not; 2. Universal (or anyone else) will never learn how to sell music right. Apple already knows how to do this.

    Again, if there are any brains at Universal, they'll do the same thing that EMI did - release their catalogue in DRM-free AAC through iTunes.

  1. Buran

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Not buying. Still.

    Whatever the excuse, this just means that I'm not going to be buying any of this stuff, which means I'm still not giving them any money. Dropping DRM is just one step. Making stuff available where I want it is another.

    I don't have a downloading habit, but it'd be nice to be able to occasionally buy music. Guess I'll keep on listening to what I already have.

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