Media Companies Wise Up & Loosen Up

Emerging Trends Division
Common sense about digital media is breaking out all over -- even in the biggie media companies!

C|Net: Universal, Sony to trim download prices. Universal and Sony have started to sell individual downloadable singles, for $0.99-$1.49, which can be burnt to CD or transferred to portable music players. They're not yet in a totally flexible format like MP3, and I suspect the hassle of making individual payment decisions is still more of a deterrent than the price itself, but it's a step in the right direction. Which brings us to...

LATimes: AOL Selling Songs Online in Unprotected Format. Real, honest-to-goodness MP3s to do with as you wish for $0.99. Further, the charge is simply added to your AOL bill -- making it an easy impulse buy. (No word yet on whether the MP3s are individually serialized, so that if you share what you buy, AOL hits you like a ton of bricks.) At least for the duration of this test program, AOLTW seems willing to entertain the notion that the costs of "protecting content" outweight the benefits. Which brings us to...

New Scientist: Harry Potter released unprotected. Warner Home Video, another AOLTW division, has decided to leave off the "Macrovision" copy-fouling signal from the VHS and DVD versions of Harry Potter and the Sorecerer's Stone. Macrovision seems none too pleased, losing about 5¢ per shipped title in licensing fees, but Warner is being perfectly rational. Macrovision never stopped serious pirates -- who could easily work around it. (Perhaps it should be called "Maginotvision.") It only inconvenienced casual home copying. But nowadays, casual home copying will involve computers and the net, and Macrovisioning every physical copy won't prevent some dedicated person, somewhere, from creating and then making widely available good-quality digital copies.

Implications for the future? Spending money on futile mechanisms to constrain consumers' choices is going to look increasingly silly. It just doesn't add to the bottom line. Complicated DRM schemes won't draw further investment or media-company customers.

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