Yahoo! Music is going to sell a personalized version of Jessica Simpson’s “A Public Affair”. Why is that in any way interesting? Because the music will not be in the typical format which is a DRM’d WMA file, but instead as an unlocked MP3. Click below to read on…

Ian C Rogers at the Yahoo! Music Blog writes about this big step for Yahoo! Music:

Our position is simple: DRM doesn’t add any value for the artist, label (who are selling DRM-free music every day — the Compact Disc), or consumer, the only people it adds value to are the technology companies who are interested in locking consumers to a particular technology platform.

We’ve also been saying that DRM has a cost. It’s very expensive for companies like Yahoo! to implement. We’d much rather have our engineers building better personalization, recommendations, playlisting applications, community apps, etc, instead of complex provisioning systems which at the end of the day allow you to burn a CD and take the DRM back off, anyway!

To which I say “AMEN, brother!”

This follows up on a previous blog posting in which he reviews Yahoo! Music’s General Manager Dave Goldberg’s request to the record labels to reduce their insistence on DRM. [insert slow clap here]

This first sale on Yahoo! Music of an unprotected MP3 file is critically important on many levels. The players involved are big-time. Yahoo! Music has quickly become a major player (next to iTunes, Napster, and Rhapsody) in the DRM market and along with top Pop star Jessica Simpson have the fiscal “weight” to be able to push the envelope in what the record labels will be willing to do.

Compare to services such as eMusic (wiki) who have been offering MP3 downloads for quite a while now, but since their music is unprotected the major labels have shunned them like the popular kids treat nerds in high school. Their content is mostly limited to indie music and smaller labels, but they have slowly but surely been gaining a foothold with artists like Lil Jon and Moby. But its still way behind the curve in tapping the huge market of Top-40, Rap and Alternative music that is the bread and butter of the industry.

If this MP3 sells well (and I am sure it will) it will prove what many anti-DRM’ers have been shouting all along. Give people a good option to purchase their music legally, and people will do it. Nevermind that there will be thousands of un-protected copies of this song available should people choose to go that route. If you make it easy to do the “right” thing then thats what people will do.

If you purchase a track from iTunes you can only play it on an iPod. Which is great if you’re one of the many sheep that owns one, but if you have the much better Creative Zen Vision:M (better sound, better video, more features, lower price) you are out of luck. Or what if you get the unlimited downloads plan from Napster (millions of songs for the price of one CD per month! beat THAT iTunes) you can’t put it on your iPod. How about the digital media players that you can attach to your stereo and listen to your music collection through your high-dollar surround sound system. If they even support DRM at all, they will surely only support whichever DRM you don’t have. And add to that list the growing number of car stereos that support MP3 files in addition to regular CDs. If you are one of the many people in this boat (remarkably like the Titanic) you get stuck with one brand of DRM or the other.

Inevitably, people are left with two real choices.

  1. Put up with it… Sadly, this is what most people do, especially the people who don’t know there are other options out there. They buy the iPod, then wonder why it won’t play their Napster songs. Or they constrain themselves to only buying the products that will work with their brand of DRM.
  2. Try to circumvent the DRM protection… Most of the people who “know” do this in one way or another. Whether they burn to a CD and then re-rip into MP3 or use software to “crack” the DRM doesn’t really matter, the end result is the same. An MP3 file that you can play anywhere.

MP3 is currently the universal format on all of these players so it only makes sense, both from a consumer standpoint and from a business standpoint, to sell music in this format. Yahoo! Music should be congratulated for being the first of the major players to take a step in this direction. It is the main reason I’m going to buy this Jessica Simpson song. It will be the first (and maybe only) Jessica Simpson song I own, but the point is for Yahoo! Music to be able to show the record labels that they can still make money even without DRM protection. The consumers will be happier because now their purchased music can be played anywhere in any device they own.
Let’s see how quickly the rest follow suit…