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Last.FM acquisition and is DRM debate missing the point?

By May 31, 2007 2 Comments

Today EMI is launching DRM free music on iTunes Plus and Steve Jobs said he expected more than half of the music on iTunes will be available DRM free by the end of the year – that is 2.5m of the 5m tracks on the service.

I thought that was big news – it seems like we are moving to the end game in the long running saga over music DRM that I have written about before (here, here, and here are three of the most relevant).

Then I read in NMA that Sony has done a deal with Vodafone to sell music over the air at a fixed price, irrespective of data tarriff and I was thinking this is a big day for music news.

Then I read about CBS acquiring Last.FM for $280m and I started to wonder if the whole download story was somewhat beside the point.  Next I found myself reading Fred Wilson’s post on the subject.  If you don’t know well and want to get a sense of what the excitement is about then read the whole post, Fred’s passion for the service is great to read, but for me one passage leapt out:

I think streaming audio is fast becoming the best way to listen to
music over the internet. A year ago, file based music (meaning iTunes)
was at least 2/3 of my listening activity. Today, it’s about 1/3 and
going down.

If everyone is streaming music, who cares about whether downloaded tracks are DRM free or not?

There is an awful long way to go in this debate, so I’m presenting thoughts here not conclusions, but in a world of ubiquitous network coverage streaming music has got to be a better way of approaching the world that download-store-play.  If the pricing is right this will be cheap and convenient enough to bring the mainstream out of piracy and into the comfort of being legal again.

Between here and that nirvana a couple of the more obvious things that need to be sorted are licensing arrangements for streaming and mobile bandwidth issues.  Neither of these are trivial to overcome but I’m starting to think the prize will be worth it.

The other thing to say is congratulations to everyone at Last.FM – this is great for them, great for their investors (Index and TAG), great for the London scene, and great for the web community at large.  There still haven’t been many consumer internet exits at this kind of scale.

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