EMI, DRM-Free Licensing Train Continues, Puretracks Latest

EMI Music continues to license its DRM-free catalog to digital music outlets following an initial exclusive involving iTunes.

The latest taker is Toronto-based Puretracks, which announced a licensing alliance with EMI Music Canada on Thursday.  Puretracks, a first-mover in the region, plans to deliver MP3s immediately.  “EMI tracks purchased at Puretracks will play on any portable music device, including MP3-enabled phones and the iPod,” said Alistair Mitchell, president and chief executive of Puretracks, Inc.  “Interoperability has been a huge issue and this is a big step forward in solving it.”

Like Apple, Puretracks is offering the DRM-free catalog within a higher-quality, more expensive tier.  Instead of 99-cents (Canadian), the DRM-free, EMI downloads will retail for $1.29.  That approach is based on the assumption that consumers place a premium on DRM-free downloads, and are willing to pay more.  But increasingly immense file-sharing volumes offer a different tale, one that finds consumers downloading MP3s for free and steering clear of paid alternatives – with or without DRM attached.

That raises the question of whether a-la-carte download pricing remains a bigger barrier for consumers, and just how critical digital protections and interoperability are to mainstream purchasing decisions.  Meanwhile, EMI remains cagey on early sales progress on iTunes Plus, potentially an indicator of sluggish uptake.  Earlier, both MediaNet Digital (formerly MusicNet) and Passalong Networks finalized deals with the major, though it remains unclear when other outlets will jump on board.