Apple Rolls iTunes Plus, Targets Premium Music Fans

Apple has now layered premium, DRM-free content within the iTunes Store, though the offering is mostly targeted towards motivated shoppers.

The launch follows a groundbreaking announcement involving EMI, the first major to position its content without digital protections.  At the onset, buyers must activate access to the iTunes Plus catalog in a separate area, and once triggered, the premium versions replace lower-priced tracks within the store.  That architecture represents a more targeted, opt-in approach.  Instead of protected, 99-cent tracks living alongside DRM-free, $1.29 downloads, users are only presented with one option, depending on their expressed preferences.  At any point, users can toggle between premium and standard versions, though multiple versions of the same song are never mixed.

A limited quantity of tracks are available DRM-free, so premium buyers are presented with default, 99-cent tracks if a Plus copy is unavailable.  For example, a search for Norah Jones would produce $1.29 downloads for a buyer that previously triggered iTunes Plus options.  A subsequent search for Avenged Sevenfold (Warner Bros.) would only yield protected, 99-cent versions.  In terms of purchasing, the iTunes Plus buying experience is exactly the same as before, and incredibly simple.  However, if a users wants to switch back to a non-Plus experience, the experience gets confusing.  The toggle is not found within Preferences, and instead requires a bit of searching within Account Settings.