Thursday, February 8, 2007

Alternative Reason for Jobs' Opinion on DRM

I hope to make this quick, even though this topic is extremely complex. Steve Jobs came out earlier this week in an open letter to the RIAA stating that he wanted to remove their FairPlay DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) from the music sold in the iTunes platform. He gave several reasons for this and pundits gave several more, but they all failed to key in on one I have had to deal with when implementing DRM, cost.

We were pioneers in the digital downloadable music space. We were the first service to break into the Billboard Top 10 singles for a digital download, a feat we managed to do twice, well before the days of iTunes. We did this selling an unprotected MP3 and a DRM protected WMA file. I will not reveal the specifics, but needless to say, the MP3 version outsold the DRM WMA version 15 to 1. I think the on was just a person who read "Windows Media Player" and thought that must be the version you want. That was 2002 I believe.

We had implemented the DRM platform to the best of our ability. It had a lot of problems. I shouldn't go into too much detail here, but the problem was on the DRM platform itself, not our implementation. Though, it may have been a bit tougher then, it still illustrated the issues behind using a system. While we were selling, a large percentage of customer who bought the DRM file had issues, like being on a Mac and not reading the media player version requirements, etc. It was really just not worth it in terms of support costs and time. Not to mention the time and costs associated with putting the system in place and maintaining it.

Fast forward to 2007. We still get support email requests from customers who bought the $1.49 single years ago claiming they cannot play their WMA file because it is asking for a license that they no longer have due to a variety of legitimate reasons including new computers, formatting, etc. The time it takes us to find their order and reissue a license costs much more than the original $1.49 that it was sold for.

I wanted to save the whole DRM thing for another series of posts, but I had to start with this. I will tell you, as an operator of a service that provides a downloadable service, DRM does nothing but increase costs, increase support time, and decrease sales. More on that later...