Good starts

Two events of particular note have occurred in the news recently: both of them are excellent news for consumers, both of them represent apparent shifts in attitude from companies I would have otherwise thought thoroughly intransigent, and both of them have put a smile on my face.

The first of these events is, as those of you who follow the news and know my stance on DRM may well have guessed, is EMI’s decision to provide DRM-free music from the iTunes Music Store. This is a thoroughly welcome decision for my part, and I truly hope to see more record companies and other “content providers” following suit. As a direct result of this, I now have an iTunes Music Store account: I don’t doubt that there are quite a number of other people who have done the same.

The other event which has me smiling is Microsoft’s decision to start up an Xbox Disc Replacement Plan, whereby damaged game discs can be cheaply replaced (£10 in the UK, $20 in the States). While other publishers have offered a service to replace damaged game media for a small fee (under the premise that the gamer is paying for a license to play the game, rather than the media itself), Microsoft’s returns policy up until now has boiled down to two words. The polite version of these two words is “go away”; I shall leave it to you, dear reader, to guess the impolite version.

As the proud owner of a stricken Gears of War disc, I’m very glad to see this scheme come into effect – of course, I would have been happier to see it come into effect before I bought myself a full-price replacement copy, but better late than never.

Do these shifts in policy, both related to DRM and companies deciding not to shaft their paying customers with it, represent a more global shift in corporate attitudes? Are they just isolated incidents which happen to have occurred within days of one another? Or should we just be glad that they’ve happened now, and not worry too much about where it will lead?

I think I’m going to go for the third one.

One Response to “Good starts”

    •  Gravatar for Meri
    • From Meri
    • Wednesday 4 April 2007 at 22:52

    I think that the best businesses have always known that shafting your consumers is not a good idea. As a long term strategy it sucks, frankly. What IS changing is the ability of those consumers to organise and to collectively tell those companies that they’re feeling shafted.

    I’m sure that whoever originally cooked up DRM thought that it was a perfectly reasonable restriction** — they thought the consumers would understand that they just owned that copy, not the right to the media in any ongoing way. After all, media companies had made a FORTUNE from format changes over the years – people bought records, then they bought tapes and then they bought CDs. People bought VHS (sometimes even betamax) and then replaced them with DVD. The format offered enough new features (smaller size, convenience, better quality) for consumers to make the switch. I’m sure there are some companies relying on HD to save their failing pension schemes too.

    What has changed is that the companies have started to realise that small groups of consumers (which potentially could have just been ignored in the past as statistically insignificant) are becoming much more important — they can band together on the internet, share their concerns, gather momentum, get on the news and most of all EXERT PRESSURE.

    ** Please note I don’t agree with this AT ALL, I just think it was a likely conversation somewhere along the line at the media corps headquarters