WSJ on the Apple/EMI Announcement

The WSJ's "Real Time" column this week is about last week's Apple/EMI announcement (you know, the one about dropping DRM).

Jason Fry observes, "First and most obviously, a major label is finally treating its customers like customers, instead of regarding them as likely shoplifters who should be given as few rights as possible."

That's a question Mr. Jobs seems to have thought through -- Apple appears to be in a win-win situation pricewise. If $1.29 downloads sell well, that's evidence he was right in arguing DRM has held back digital-music sales. And the improved audio quality makes the restricted downloads look even worse, ratcheting up the pressure on the other three major labels to follow EMI's lead. (Hence Mr. Jobs's confident estimate that half of iTunes' catalog will be offered in DRM-free versions by the end of 2007.) And if the DRM-free downloads don't do as well as 99-cent, restricted downloads? Then Mr. Jobs will have knocked the legs out from under the music industry's calls for tiered song pricing, without yielding the point or putting iTunes' sales at risk.

One more piece of the equation: The music industry is clearly worried about the album. Late last month, Apple introduced the Complete My Album feature; the latest announcement included word that full albums from EMI will be $9.99 in both restricted and unrestricted formats (which raises the question of why on earth anyone would buy the former).