Universal Music Group, the biggest record label in the goddamn world, announced last Thursday that it would begin selling DRM-free MP3s through a variety of digital vendors. Music from a test selection of artists in Universal’s catalog will be available through Wal-Mart, Best Buy Digital Music Store, Rhapsody, Transworld, Passalong Networks, Amazon, Puretracks, and Google -- though not through iTunes. Daaaamn!
Google plans to continue its current music service, which links searchers to music vendors, and to create its own online music store called gBox (PC-only, at least for now). Google has chosen to avoid the centrally located business model of digital music stores like iTunes, instead adopting a method of distribution that relies on advertising. Universal will buy advertising from Google’s AdWords program, which displays advertisements based on the content of a website. The advertisements for Universal will contain a link to gBox, where MP3s from the advertised artist will be available for purchase. So, for example, if you send an e-mail containing the words “Reba McEntire” to my Gmail account, I will be provided with a link to gBox’s collection of Reba McEntire hits. Daaaaaaaamn!
With their announced price of $.99-per-track, it is hard to imagine that Universal is not intentionally challenging Apple, whose DRM-free offerings cost a full $.30 more. Universal has referred to this experiment as a “test [of] the implications of selling our music in an open format,” though it will also test the potential for MP3 sales without the power of the iPod. Though their DRM-free tracks will likely play on the iPod, Universal and Google may have a hard time pulling consumers away from iTunes without a vertically integrated system to offer. Daaaaaaaaaaaamn!
Hopefully, this bit of competition will help to loosen Apple’s stranglehold on digital music sales and prevent them from arbitrarily raising prices. And with two of the Big Four moving away from DRM (the other being EMI), perhaps the encryption is on its way out. It should be noted, however, that gBox will also offer DRM-encrypted MP3s for the same price as their non-encrypted equivalent, which are expected to make great gag gifts for music listeners. Shiiiiiiiiiiit!