It's no secret that I'm not a fan of DRM. I've commented about DRM earlier on this blog here, here and here. I suppose I should say that while I like what DRM attempts to do, I have yet to find a DRM model that's transparent and flexible enough for the end user. Too often someone who has a DRM'd book or song finds they're able to do less with the e-version than they can with the physical version. That's just wrong and it needs to be fixed before DRM can be considered a viable option.
Given all this, I was thrilled to see Steve Jobs speaking out about the need to abolish DRM in the music industry. Then I read his letter a second time... It wouldn't be the first time I've been accused of being overly cynical, but why does it feel like Steve doesn't want to do this to improve the user experience as much as he wants to protect and grow his empire? He notes how only 3% of the songs on a typical iPod are from iTunes. (Btw, this letter confirms the back-of-the-envelope math I did in this post when I calculated the average iPod only has 20-30 songs from iTunes.) The 3% he gets today is peanuts compared to that 97% he doesn't get; Steve wants to tap into that 97% base of songs iPod owners are buying directly from the record labels. The best way to do this: Abolish DRM.
Sure, he talks about the option of licensing FairPlay to other vendors, but what's the point? What does Apple have to gain by licensing FairPlay? A few pennies here and there for licensing fees? Please! The iPod is already the king of the hill. With the majority of digital music player market share, how much money could Apple really rake in by licensing FairPlay to the other vendors, especially since all of those devices are also likely to see the same 3% iTunes ceiling the iPod has netted? So Steve makes the licensing option seem silly by employing FUD and saying it could compromise the security. Right.
Nah, the real money in this game is only found by capturing the other 97%. Smart move, Steve. I don't see the labels buying into it, though, especially since they have everything to lose.