SAN JOSE, Calif. Apple Inc. will make available starting in May a new tier of digital music. Apple's iTunes store will sell the entire digital catalog from EMI Music without any digital-rights restrictions and at a higher encoding quality for a 30 cents per song premium.
The move to selling digital songs without any digital rights management (DRM) marks the latest step by Apple to push the boundaries in defining new business models for digital media. In a press release Monday (April 2), the company implied it expects several other studios will follow suit in adopting the new model later this year.
The EMI titles will be positioned as premium content, encoded in a 256 Kbits/second Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) format and sold for $1.29 per song. By contrast, songs on iTunes today are encoded in 128 Kbit/s AAC format and sold for 99 cents.
The iTunes store will offer customers a one-click option to upgrade their library 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.
In early February, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs posted an opinion article on the Apple Web site saying the company would embrace "wholeheartedly" a move to eliminate all copy protection on digital music. However, Jobs said Apple will not license the proprietary FairPlay DRM software used on its iTunes service and iPod music players.
Job's posting came in response to several organizations in Europe attacking Apple. The European groups blasted Apple for use of its proprietary DRM that prevents MP3 players from other companies playing songs from the iTunes service that now consists of more than five million titles.
"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," said Jobs in a prepared statement.
The new titles remove the proprietary FairPlay restrictions. However, Apple is still clinging to the AAC format which is not widely supported among the MP3 players made by other companies. Some industry observers have predicted studios will eventually release digital music without DRM and in the MP3 format.
In addition to music, the iTunes store also offers 350 television shows and more than 400 movies. One of the most popular sources of legitimate digital media on the Web, iTunes has sold more than two billion songs, 50 million TV shows and 1.3 million movies to date, making it the world's most popular online music, TV and movie store. However, the service is still far eclipsed by free music and movie download services on the Web.