Wed, Aug 22nd 2007 3:23am
Universal Music announced a couple weeks back that it would begin selling DRM-free music -- but not through the iTunes Music Store, in a bid to undermine Apple's dominance in online music sales. As we pointed out, this wasn't likely to happen, since few people shop for music according to what label it's on, particularly when it's a huge one like Universal. The label now says that its unprotected tracks will be available from a few different sources: a new service called Gbox, and through Wal-Mart's online music store. Both will undercut Apple's price for DRM-free tracks by selling them for 99 and 94 cents respectively, but that's hardly likely to make a difference, particularly in attracting iPod users, nor will it help their businesses since the margins on digital music are already pretty thin. The problem remains that most people don't pay attention to what label their favorite performers are on. Saying "we sell DRM-free songs from Universal/EMI artists" isn't going to have much of an impact in getting people to switch from iTunes, but it does seem to illustrate that labels and other retailers are looking to compete with iTunes on this front, which should be good news for consumers. Still, the iTunes Music Store's dominance will remain until another retailer can somehow convince all the major labels and a wide array of indies to let it sell DRM-free music. As long as Apple's rivals can only use a piecemeal approach to get music they sell onto iPods, it's going to be a long, fruitless, uphill battle. Competing with iTunes on price is only part of the equation. Rivals have to also match its selection; then they have to worry about matching its ease of use as well.
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