Related to my last post and Monday’s quote of the day, USA Today had an article on Monday headlined “closed systems leave song buyers out in the cold.” There’s little in the article that regular readers of TLF haven’t seen before, but the fact that a mainstream, lowbrow newspaper is starting to cover the issue indicates how far mainstream perceptions have shifted. Three years ago, when Apple launched the iTunes Store, the people warning that DRM would create compatibility nightmares for consumers were largely regarded as Chicken Littles. Now as Microsoft gets ready to release a third major DRM format that’s mutually incompatible with the previous two, the problem is becoming a practical headache for millions of consumers. If you’ve built up a music library at the iTunes Store, there’s no easy and legal way for you to become a Zune customers: you’ll have to download an illicit conversion program (which probably won’t be terribly user-friendly), burn all the songs to CD and re-rip them into Zune, or repurchase each and every song from the Zune store. None of those options are appealing to the busy professionals that are most likely to buy high-priced music devices. It’s only a matter of time before frustrations reach a boiling point.
I’m starting to think that my prediction of a DRM-free music industry by 2020 was pessimistic. I wouldn’t be surprised if a customer backlash forced the majors to start offering music in open online formats before the end of the decade.