Jobs’ open letter, Thoughts on Music, published this morning, has brought the DRM-free music meme to the forefront in a way and scale that only Jobs can achieve. As Fred Wilson points out, perhaps Steve Jobs has had a change of heart when it comes to DRM. Or perhaps not.
We should remember that Jobs is first and foremost a great marketer and PR guy, and the beauty of publishing this letter is that it gets Apple fantastic PR and doesn’t cost the company anything, regardless of the outcome. And he does a great job of passing the blame (deservedly so) for the evils of DRM on to the record labels, where the blame belongs.
Apple already has de facto monopoly share with or without DRM. And historically, they haven’t been willing to open up FairPlay – the fact that I can’t stream my iTMS-purchased content in my home via Sonos or Squeezebox frustrates me on a daily basis. Between heat from the EU and the bad press Apple gets already from “activist” users and journalists who harpoon Apple for being closed and consumer unfriendly, their dominance and their DRM has become a liability.
I’m sure Apple would happily jettison DRM and it would solve some problems for them, though I think it would have minimal impact on the status quo WRT their market dominance, which means that some of Apple’s detractors will linger simply because they are the big gorilla when it comes to digital music.
Jobs wrote this letter for Apple’s benefit, and any positive side effects for consumers are just happy coincidences. This is a clear case of enlightened self-interest. He gets awesome PR and can position himself as the anti-DRM standards bearer, while solving a growing PR problem for Apple, whether or not it actually leads to a world of DRM-free music. Altruism does not necessarily play a part here and Apple wins regardless of the outcome.
Regardless of Job’s motives, which in the end don’t matter as this is a case of “greed is good”, I am encouraged and excited to see this issue in the limelight.
So kudos to Steve Jobs if he’s had a change of heart and now believes in the anti-DRM religion.
And kudos to him if this is all just savvy marketing and self-interest on his part. Either way, he’s brought the issue to forefront, and users benefit.