DRM Questions Continue, Experimental Data Remains Foggy

Content protection remains a difficult puzzle piece for the music industry, and scant data is perpetuating the confusion.

At the Digital Rights Strategies forum in Manhattan, top executives professed that little is known about the impact of recent, DRM-free sales experiments from majors EMI and Universal Music.  And a confusing patchwork of DRM-free partnerships is further complicating the analysis.

In a marquee panel moderated by Digital Music News, top RIAA technologist David Hughes pointed to a small sales bump after the introduction of iTunes Plus, a protection-free program involving Apple and EMI.  Others, including MediaNet Digital senior vice president of Business Development and Partner Relations Mark Mooradian, questioned whether any gains had been realized.

EMI – and Apple for that matter – have declined to release data from the iTunes Plus experiment, making an early-stage assessment mostly impossible.  And DRM-free experiments involving portions of the Universal Music Group catalog remain incredibly early-stage, and equally difficult to analyze.

An unexpected comparison emerged from Snocap, a core component of MySpace MyStores.  The service allows artists to sell content from their profile pages, and offers the option of MP3-based or protected sales.  According to Ali Aydar, chief operating officer at Snocap, most artists choose MP3s, though a minority – including Warner Music Group – broker in protected content.  “Pound for pound, MP3 sells more,” said Aydar, perhaps an obvious outcome.