Apple: Higher quality 256 kbps AAC DRM-free music on iTunes Store coming in May

Apple StoreApple today announced that EMI Music’s entire digital catalog of music will be available for purchase DRM-free (without digital rights management) from the iTunes Store worldwide in May. DRM-free tracks from EMI will be offered at higher quality 256 kbps AAC encoding, resulting in audio quality indistinguishable from the original recording, for just $1.29 per song. In addition, iTunes customers will be able to easily upgrade their entire library of all previously purchased EMI content to the higher quality DRM-free versions for just 30 cents a song. iTunes will continue to offer its entire catalog, currently over five million songs, in the same versions as today—128 kbps AAC encoding with DRM—at the same price of 99 cents per song, alongside DRM-free higher quality versions when available.

“We are going to give iTunes customers a choice—the current versions of our songs for the same 99 cent price, or new DRM-free versions of the same songs with even higher audio quality and the security of interoperability for just 30 cents more,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, in the press release. “We think our customers are going to love this, and we expect to offer more than half of the songs on iTunes in DRM-free versions by the end of this year.”

“EMI and iTunes are once again teaming up to move the digital music industry forward by giving music fans higher quality audio that is virtually indistinguishable from the original recordings, with no usage restrictions on the music they love from their favorite artists,” said Eric Nicoli, CEO of EMI Group, in the press release.

With DRM-free music from the EMI catalog, iTunes customers will have the ability to download tracks from their favorite EMI artists without any usage restrictions that limit the types of devices or number of computers that purchased songs can be played on. DRM-free songs purchased from the iTunes Store will be encoded in AAC at 256 kbps, twice the current bit rate of 128 kbps, and will play on all iPods, Mac® or Windows computers, Apple TVs and soon iPhones, as well as many other digital music players.

iTunes will also offer customers a simple, one-click option to easily upgrade their entire library of all previously purchased EMI content to the higher quality DRM-free format for 30 cents a song. All EMI music videos will also be available in DRM-free format with no change in price.

The iTunes Store features the world’s largest catalog with over five million songs, 350 television shows and over 400 movies. The iTunes Store has sold over two billion songs, 50 million TV shows and over 1.3 million movies, making it the world’s most popular online music, TV and movie store.

Apple iTunes

MacDailyNews Take: The pressure on other labels to follow EMI’s lead will be impossible to ignore. Note that, when all is said and done, iTunes Store’s new track price will $1.29 going forward. We’re not sure how long the 99-cent DRM-laden, low quality tracks will remain for sale on iTunes Store, but our initial hunch is not for as long as some might think. How long do you think the 99-cent DRM tracks will last?

Related article:
EMI to sell entire music catalog without DRM, higher quality; Apple first to sell new downloads – April 02, 2007
EMI rejects Warner Music buyout bid – March 04, 2007
EMI halts talks about selling DRM-free music – February 26, 2007
Warner Music approaches EMI in possible takeover bid – February 20, 2007
Macrovision posts pro-DRM open letter to Steve Jobs and digital entertainment industry – February 16, 2007
Warner’s DRM-loving Middlebronfman warns wireless industry it may lose music market to Apple iPhone – February 14, 2007
Monster Cable announces full support of Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ call for DRM-free music – February 13, 2007
BBC columnist doesn’t believe Steve Jobs’ Apple would stop using DRM if music labels would allow it – February 12, 2007
EMI may sell entire music catalog DRM-free – February 09, 2007
Recording Industry Association of America wants their DRM, calls for Apple to license FairPlay – February 08, 2007
Warner’s Middlebronfman: Jobs’ DRM-free music call ‘without logic and merit, we’ll not abandon DRM’ – February 08, 2007
Apple’s Jobs jolts music industry; Zune exec calls Jobs’ call for DRM-free music ‘irresponsible’ – February 07, 2007
Technology Review editor gets a lot wrong in his article about Apple CEO Jobs’ push to end DRM – February 07, 2007
Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ posts rare open letter: ‘Thoughts on Music’ – calls for DRM-free music – February 06, 2007

52 Comments

  1. I wonder how many chairs are flying around in Redmond. If Apple can get all the record labels to offer their catalogs DRM-freen, then that means the Windows-Media DRM mess will become irrelevant. It also means that iTunes will be the most flexible option to consumers exposing even more people to the Apple brand. As a result, these people will be subtly encouraged to buy iPods and other Apple products further cementing Apple’s lead in the marketplace. The also-ran music stores can’t say they offer music for Macs and PCs, with or without DRM (at higher quality bitrates) at all making them seem even more unimportant and inflexible. This is great news and hopefully the start of an important trend – treat customers like customers and not like thieves.

  2. @reese
    You can buy an entire album with all tracks at 256k for the same price as before.

    255k encoded songs are 30cents more.

    DRM free and higher quality are paired, you cant get the higher quality with DRM for the current 99c.

  3. Hey, what about the Zune where it ADDS DRM to a song even though the song originally didn’t have any? I know it does this cause I see many people bitching about that, but what happens now? If you buy a DRM-free song on a Zune will Microsoft add DRM to it whether you like it or not?

    It’ll be interesting to see how the Zune handles the new world order. I’m guessing it will sink just that much faster into oblivion.

    Just as soon as they are available I’m going to ITMS and buy something – anything – cut by EMI as my little token of appreciation that they have the balls to step forward and make the world a better sounding place.

  4. And the pressure is off Apple from regulators – no more DRM interoperability issues. You can buy tracks from iTunes and play them on your Zune……if you so happen to be that sort of masochist.

  5. Shogun:
    “I just went and looked. Not yet. How long until iTunes is updated? I want to buy to support this move.”

    You can buy now. The DRM free tracks will go live in May and you will be able to upgrade them for 30 cents each (US). If you plan to buy full albums you’ll need to wait until they implement this next month.

    This is exciting news, it really blows open the doors to digital downloads, with a little more tweaking (I’d like to see digital tracks ship with meta-deta lyrics embedded in them), digital downloads could easily eclipse CD sales in only a few years.

    CD sales were already down in the past month by 20%, CD sales are sinking like a stone. The rest of the music industry will have to follow suit quickly, more than likely. Consumers will determine the outcome of this by voting with their dollars.

  6. @Cubert,

    True, there will be no more pressure from regulators over anti-trust issues.

    The irony is, as someone was discussing above, you can buy DRM-free tracks from iTunes and transfer them to your Zune… where they are immediately encased in a tasty DRM shell.

  7. > iTunes will also offer customers a simple, one-click option to easily upgrade their entire library of all previously purchased EMI content to the higher quality DRM-free format for 30 cents a song.

    That’s pretty nifty (typical Apple). Hopefully, you can selectively upgrade tracks as well.

    I think the 99-cent pricing will be around for at least the next two years. Apple has given its customers yet another reason (in addition to the recent Complete My Album service) for buying the album. I hope this gives the artists and the record companies incentive to put together good albums.

  8. This is good news. Personally, what I’m hoping for is that the other labels will see EMI’s success here, and offer their own libraries DRM-free and at a higher bitrate. And just because I like competition, hopefully eMusic will get a larger library to sell. The nice thing about eMusic is that all their tracks have always been DRM free, and are encoded at decent bit rates in MP3 format. Their pricing is decent, as well- $10/month gets you 30 tracks to download. If you know you’re going to download a bunch of tracks, their model is less expensive, though it does involve a little more work than iTMS.

    The way I figure it, competition is good, as it drives the competitors to constantly improve their offerings. The lack of serious competition is how Microsoft got so bad over the years.

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