DRM Free Music and Paul McCartney Arrive on iTunes

Along with the iTunes update Apple added DRM-free music and Paul McCartney’s collection (not the Beatles) to the iTunes store. The FAQ says the DRM free music is available in all countries that have an iTunes store. This appears to have made iTunes very popular. The store is slow for me and my attempt to upgrade my library timed out during the downloads yet downloading a couple podcasts went just fine.

The song downloads finally completed the morning of June 2nd at 5:30am.

The new DRM-free songs are called iTunes Plus so any DRM-Music carries that label when you view it. In addition to being DRM-free the songs are encoded at 256kbps instead of 128kbps. When I clicked on the iTunes Plus panel in the store I was brought to a page that promoted the new albums. There as also a message at the top that I had 1 album and 2 singles that were available for upgrade. Albums can be upgraded for 30% of the original album cost and singles for thirty cents each. You’re given a button to upgrade everything with one click. You can’t upgrade albums or songs individually. If you decide to upgrade you have the option to delete the DRM’d files or to save them to the desktop. I decided to upgrade my 1 album and two songs to see how it worked. The update saves the play counts, ratings and other extended information (what I’d call mp3 tags if these were mp3’s). I changed the genre’s and they were properly saved.

What I did find was two albums I bought with DRM were not offered as upgrades. (There may be more, but these were chart toppers so I noticed.) I bought both The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd through iTunes but aren’t available for upgrade despite being available DRM free. I haven’t contacted Apple yet. I figure I’ll wait for the dust to settle and see if they show up.

One thing I found interesting is that you need to select whether or not you want to see iTunes Plus content when it’s available or whether you want to just see the DRM content all the time. This is set as a preference. While it can be changed you need to go into your account preferences and change it. This is an account preference, not an iTunes preference. so it applies to all computers. No doubt Apple did this to avoid confusion and try to keep to their “keep it simple” philosophy. I think it’s a valid decision in that people will pick on or the other. They’ll take DRM music to save money all the time or DRM-Free for the higher bitrate and freedom.

Music video are also available DRM-free but they are in the same video bitrate as the DRM videos. Free music is not available for upgrade.

The DRM free tracks are $1.29 each compared to $0.99 for the DRM protected tracks. In an interesting twist, full albums are the same price whether DRM or DRM free. So if you buy albums there’s no reason not to go for DRM-free. While the news reports all mentioned that EMI was the label providing the music Apple doesn’t mention EMI at all. They simply promote DRM-Free and higher quality music with more to be added over time.

As for Paul McCartney, iTunes is offering a “Deluxe Version” of his upcoming album but isn’t running any other promotion for the collection. It includes three bonus tracks and a pdf booklet. I thought they might offer the entire collection as a “boxed set” at a significant discount. They’ve done this for Bob Dylan and others. There are 28 McCartney albums listed (including the pre-order) which others have said are all his non-Beatles albums.

I typically still bought CDs and only went through iTunes when it was significantly less for the album (I was wiling to pay more for the CD), wasn’t in eMusic, or I only wanted a song or two. There were a few times I was lazy and went the iTunes route. I’ll probably still compare prices with CDs but but I won’t pay a premium for CD. I’ll also be more willing to buy individual tracks or sample a band by buying a track.

Will you upgrade your iTunes library? Will you buy more from iTunes now (or start buying)? Will you still buy the DRM music?