Music Subscriptions, DRM, and iPods

Music producer and would-be savior of the record industry Rick Rubin, in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine:

“You would subscribe to music,” Rubin explained, as he settled on the velvet couch in his library. “You’d pay, say, $19.95 a month, and the music will come anywhere you’d like. In this new world, there will be a virtual library that will be accessible from your car, from your cellphone, from your computer, from your television. Anywhere. The iPod will be obsolete, but there would be a Walkman-like device you could plug into speakers at home.”

The iPod as we know it might be obsolete in such a world, but why couldn’t the Walkman-like device that plays the subscription music be an iPod? I’ve been saying this for years: just because Apple hasn’t engaged in subscription-based plans for music yet doesn’t mean they couldn’t. And if they did it now, theirs would be more popular than all existing ones combined.

But here’s the problem with subscription-based music: you can’t have it without DRM. Because without DRM, what’s to stop someone from subscribing for one month, downloading every song they might ever want, then unsubscribing but keeping the music? And the thing with DRM is that people hate it, because it restricts what they can do and where they can play their music. To argue that subscriptions are the future of music is to argue that DRM is the future of music, and the evidence points to the contrary.

Monday, 3 September 2007