USA Today Needs a Content Editor

I was reading an article in USA Today (found sitting around the office), and went to look up more about it online. Which led me to an older article about the debut of variable song pricing in the iTunes Store. From that article:

As people got used to buying music online, Apple had trouble arguing that it was simplest if all songs were 99 cents; when it became clear DRM was on its way out, Apple let go of control over pricing in order to keep its service in line with competitors like Amazon.com Inc. [1]

Now, this is a perfect example of something that is grammatically correct, and the facts it provides are basically true, but they way in which they are presented totally misrepresents the relationships between those facts. At least, if every other story I can find on the matter is to be believed.[2,3,4,5] That is, the facts that every other story [a sampling of which I’ve sourced] I can find agrees on are:

  • Apple preferred one price
  • Apple was having increasing trouble persuading the record labels to accept one price
  • At some point, it “became clear DRM was on its way out”
  • Apple dropped DRM
  • Apple relaxed control of prices
  • And, probably, competition from Amazon’s download service played into this

However, the USA Today article leaves out three salient facts:

  • Apple has always been anti-DRM [in the context of music in the iTunes Store, at least]
  • The record labels were the ones who decided that music through the iTunes Store would [mostly] use DRM
  • The record labels were the ones who decided to sell music through Amazon without DRM

The last point was, in my opinion, to give a competitive advantage to Amazon, so that it would lessen Apple’s near-monopolistic leverage. But, of course, in the process it put the lie to their claims that DRM was necessary. And, despite the music on Amazon being DRM-free, they had failed to make significant inroads on Apple’s sales in a year.[1] So, from what I can tell, it was to the record labels, not Apple, that it “became clear DRM was on its way out”, but they used the leverage of insisting on it—or, the carrot of getting rid of it, depending on how you look at it—to demand multi-tier pricing. Apple may well have let go of single-tier pricing in order to stay competitive with Amazon and other competitors, but it looks to have been in order to get DRM-free music, moreso than because they actually think that multi-tier pricing is, in and of itself, a competitive advantage. But the wording of the USA Today article makes it sound like it was Apple coming to a revelation that they should give up on DRM, when, in reality, it was the record labels who were the ones who had to acknowledge that DRM was hurting, not helping, sales, and had to come to grips with giving it up.[6,7]

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