When the iPod arrived on the scene in 2001, it lacked the iTunes store. Of course, users could rip their own CD’s or download from various file-sharing sites. Other options existed, but none ubiquitously had parity with online piracy. Then in 2003, the iTunes music store opened offering tracks in Apple’s locked-down FairPlay version of AAC. Ascribe what you will to the quality of the tracks and selection; snub your nose at those days all you want – in 2007, Apple dropped DRM from its music, raised compression quality, and garnered a fuzzy Samaratin aura from its fans: good news. But while iTunes in many ways forged a new, prosperous path for online music sales, it devolved into a hedged-in business which is first and foremost, looking out for its own. Amazon’s music store is Apple’s primary competition and the two have been playing cats’n mice in each other’s back yards for many years, taking advantage of proprietary market advantages. One such is Amazon’s Daily Deals MP3 sales which allow the online retail giant exclusivity on all Daily Deal sales for 24 hours. Apple won’t have it, however.
Why this matters isn’t just skin deep: Amazon and Apple are at it; come to think of it, Apple and Google are at it. Apple are just plain at it. Both Apple and Amazon have a goodly amount of pull on their respective markets, but Apple have the upper hand in that they are the emergent hallelujah media baby. And why not? They created the iPod and iPhone – what they say matters, what they think matters more. But where Apple’s attacks really hurt is where they affect the consumer, the artist, and the market in general. According to AppleInsider, Apple have taken issue with Amazon’s exclusive Daily Deals programme which promotes: albums, artists, and songs, and is great for exposure and sales.
In many ways, for the consumer and the artist it is a win. The label and distributor also benefit. Hype drives much of the online market and Daily Deals is just that.
A company’s bottom line –sales– and public esteem forged from exclusivity contracts are certainly bolstered. Amazon’s current advantage with their Daily Deals programme comes from the fact that in addition dosh, their Daily Deals programme rakes wuffie from the internets, from blogs, from forums, from feeds, and from the general feeling that online music sales are alive and healthy. It is a win-win situation, and one Apple won’t stand for.
In reaction, they are attacking Amazon’s advantage – a natural thing for a competitor. But, particularly as Amazon’s deals stand as unique gateways to purchased content, their attack is unrightfully stinky. Generally, I agree with Apple’s business and practical acumen. Removing DRM from songs was a great step in accumulating consumer trust, but attacking a competitor who also offers DRM, and whose sales help to rebuff loses incurred because of online music piracy, is short-sighted and wrong.
In 2007′s open letter about DRM entitled ‘Thoughts on Music’, Steve Jobs extols the benefits of open sales, saying:
If such requirements [DRM] were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players. This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies.
Amazon’s store is full of DRM-free MP3 files which are playable on most every media player in the world. Apple’s DRM-free files are based on the MP3′s de facto successor, and the baby standard of the Moving Pictures Experts Group, but the general hardware market hasn’t yet caught onto the format. Support is growing across many manufacturer lines, but it is far from steady. Their exclusivity deal is an amazing chance for hoarding the dosh and wuffie. And in a competitive market, it is only fair play. But Apple, who have been in a punching position for years, won’t, it seems, take Amazon’s expression of capitalism while sitting. Currently, they are pressuring music companies to drop exclusivity with Amazon via the Daily Deals programme. It isn’t hot air either: Apple have withdrawn ‘marketing support’ from sales items featured as Daily Deals.
In one way, it is fine and dandy: all’s fair in love and war. Ostensibly, Apple and other vendors could capitalise on a Daily Deal abolished world. But what would be the point? The 24 hours is only important because as it stands, it is exclusive and hype-able. If Amazon’s Daily Deals were axed, the fun, the competition, the hype, would die. So too would panic-purchases. And what good does it serve to drop support of artists and albums which are featured as Daily Deals? In the end, who is hurting?
The market is a funny thing. It breathes and lives, kicking at stones which block it and piling others it likes. It thrives on surprise, on nuance and Apple are threatening to remove both stones. Instead, their ideal market would be that of a giant-serving free market ala NAFTA which drops poorer/smaller countries into subservient roles of the larger, greedier nation.
If the sale of online music can already be parsed so well into profitable of terms, then hindering them is the next logical step, right? Piracy exists because it is easy, because it is free, and because it allows the most freedom to the user. Eliminating a user’s choice and indeed, a chance at hype purchasing is a retrograde step which will hinder a market which is hanging because of support from vendors. If Apple succeed in convincing publishers to react to every beck and call, then online music is already on a path of doom – this time, it is paved in no small part by the company who helped bring music out of the pirate’s den into the boardroom.
Music is the fabric on which this reedy life is woven. I enjoy it any way I can, particularly whilst out and about and via headphones.