Saturday, December 25, 2004


Call me old-fashioned, but I've yet to download from an online music store.

Is it because I'm a starving student that feels ripped off by the recording industry? Absolutely not. I'm a firm believer in intellectual property rights, and support the recording industry charging whatever people will pay for their products.

So if I'm willing to pay for my music, and I own an iPod, and I use iTunes to listen to my music, why have I resisted so intently on trying the iTunes music store?

To illustrate this well-documented area where DRM (Digital Rights Management) a la iTunes falls short, I'd like to tell you about some books I just purchased through's used books Marketplace.

The three books I purchased retail at $13.95, $33.95, and $16.00 respectively.

I paid $2.21, $13.61, and $0.75 respectively for used copies in "Like New" condition.

That's right. Seventy-five cents for a like-new, hardcover, 176 page book. How? The apparently well-read book was published 7 years ago, and the marketplace has been flooded with copies that owners are ready to re-sell (103 owners in the marketplace alone, to be precise).

By purchasing these books from previous owners, I saved $47.33 (or 74%).

The same phenomenon can be found with CDs. Ever been to a used music store? Or taken advantage of an offer to trade in 5 used CDs for 1 new one? You get the point..

By paying to download music (or more accurately, by paying to license music), you lose the right to resell music you no longer wish to listen to. Even if this "feature" were provided by services like the iTunes music store, you would probably be limited to reselling your music to other iTunes users. Apple has addressed this issue in the past, claiming it's "impractical".

What "impractical" really means is that it is not in Apple's best interest, and certainly not in the best interest of the RIAA.

In fact, while the RIAA has long played victim in the effects of the Internet on their business, in truth they have much more to gain from it. Imagine if book publishers had the chance to get rid of libraries, used book stores, and used online sales (the same kind that just saved me $47.33, or I should say lost them $47.33). This is effectively what online music stores in their current incarnation have the ability to do for the recording industry.

Again, call me old-fashioned, but when I buy a book, I like to be able to resell it when I'm done reading it, or even give it away to a friend (I often give copies to my favorite books to friends, then go buy another new copy to re-stock my bookshelf). I like to be able to read my book anywhere. I like to be able to walk into a store and pay cash for my book in a semi-anonymous transaction, and not have the contents of my bookshelf known to some corporation.

These are all rights that have been taken away with the advent of online music stores. They are also problems to which there are undoubtedly technical solutions if companies were so-inclined to explore them. Unfortunately, nobody has stepped up to the plate. I imagine companies feel that to do so would not be profitable. I would disagree, and in fact suggest that in part because all DRM to this day has been broken, and in part because the music is available from CD without any DRM anyway, the first company to offer the ability to resell, give away, use unrestricted, and use anonymously would gain a clear competitive edge.

Live to dream...

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