Ah, progress. It used to be that you just went out and bought a compact disc and you didn’t have to worry about whether it would work on your player.
These days, in the age of digital distribution, we don’t need to buy CDs anymore. What we have, instead, are a bunch of online music services, offering songs for sale or rent via quick download to a bunch of digital music players that might or might not actually play them.
The article is helpful overview of some of the “messy” issues involved in the multiple incompatible players and formats, but it includes a quote from Yahoo Music’s director of product management, Ian Rogers, that I think is way out of line.
He said he hopes today’s protected file formats will eventually go the way of the Betamax videotape or other, now-obsolete music formats.
“I feel for anybody spending $10,000 to fill up an iPod today,” he said. “It’s like spending $10,000 on eight-track tapes in 1978: You’re going to be super-bummed come 1990.”
Bad analogy, Mr. Rogers. I’m willing to bet that maintaining backward compatibility with AAC files on computers or whatever new devices Apple invents won’t be an issue. If Microsoft has kept Windows compatible with earlier versions for a decade, doing the same for DRM music files will be relatively simple.
Everyone who is concerned has the ability to burn their music and back up to CD files today, for maybe a nickel a song. I’m not going to take the time to do that, because I’m betting I will be able to play my files on some device for the rest of my life. Those 8-tracks, on the other hand…
The reason everyone laughs at the “8-track” punch line is no one makes a device anymore that can play them. It requires a physical manufacturing of a special device. That’s not true for digital files.
What it comes down to is Apple has been able to bridge the gap between the pirates and the copyright holders, and has staked out a position that is eminently reasonable for people who want to follow the law and share fairly.
For some newer bands, copy protection hasn’t been an issue. They thrive of the viral nature of the net, and want their music to get broad distribution outside of the major record labels. But Apple’s important contribution was to put the seal of legitimacy on digital music, so that the big current hits are available in the same location as those in the Long Tail.
Check out these other related Post features from its section entitled, “The iPod Turns 5”