Back before we were subsumed with news of the handset that shall bring peace and harmony to the world, there were other issues at stake—important issues. Just under a month ago, for example, Apple launched iTunes Plus, which made available DRM-free tracks from record label EMI. Steve Jobs had promised earlier this year that half of the music in the iTunes Store would be DRM-free by the end of the year. How’s that going for him?
The first sales figures from EMI show a promising spike since the introduction of DRM-free music. “The initial results of DRM-free music are good,” said Lauren Berkowitz, an EMI Senior VP. Sales of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon are reputedly up 272% since the introduction of DRM-free tracks, while other EMI artists like Norah Jones, Coldplay, and Smashing Pumpkins had seen increases as well. Meanwhile, CD sales for many of those same albums have declined over the same period.
That said, I’ll keep my enthusiasm tempered. We don’t know, for example, whether or not upgrading your tracks to the DRM-free version counts as a “sale.” And keep in mind that iTunes doesn’t let you choose which tracks to upgrade: it’s an all-or-nothing proposition, which might help explain the spike. And there’s always the novelty factor to consider as well. It may be that interest in DRM-free tracks cools as it becomes old hat. But interest may pick up if other record labels join EMI on the DRM-free bandwagon (pun intended!). Call me cautiously optimistic.