With all the hubbub over the launch of AmazonMP3, Amazon’s DRM-free music store, I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Steve Jobs’s open letter to the music industry from back in Feburary. In the letter, Jobs claimed that DRM was forced on iTunes by the music companies, and that
If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.
Well, it seems Amazon has pulled this off. The rub is, of the big four companies, Amazon only has EMI on board, the same EMI that earlier in the year allowed Apple to sell higher quality, DRM-free music on iTunes for $1.29 a track, a $0.30 premium over regular tracks. This move seemed contrary to the spirit of Jobs’s letter; if EMI was letting iTunes sell DRM-free tracks, why did they cost more, and why were there still DRM tracks being sold? The big difference in Amazon’s approach is that they have created a DRM-free store, not added a DRM-free premium like Apple did. Additionally, some of the Amazon tracks are only $0.89 each, a $0.40 savings over the DRM-free iTunes tracks.
In his letter, Jobs claims that the iTunes deal was revolutionary at the time, and he’s right. However, the Amazon model is going to crush the iTunes model: in it’s first day, it was already snagging customers from Apple. As the store catches on (and it seems likely to), the other major music publishers are going to get on board, and when they do Apple is going to have to make good on Steve Jobs’s DRM letter.