David Robinson and others on Zune

A quick pointer to a recent Freedom to Tinker post by David Robinson: Rethinking DRM Dystopia.

I was surprised to read recently that Zune, Microsoft’s new music service, will probably scan users’ iTunes libraries and automatically buy for them (at Microsoft’s expense) copies of any protected music they own on the iTunes service.

If true, this news might have an enormous impact on the digital music market — think about:

  1. how a strong Microsoft music player would give the labels more leverage in their negotiations with current price-setter Apple
  2. how this gives the content industry even stronger veto power over which media devices can enter the market
  3. how companies that only develop a portable music player without also building an online music store and negotiating with the labels are out of luck (*)

Zune logo

I still need to chew a bit on this, but I think David Robinson draws the right conclusion (sorry for all the quoting) — from his post:

What are the lessons here? Personally, I feel like I underestimated the power of the market to solve the possible problems raised by DRM. It appears that the “lock in” phenomenon creates a powerful incentive for competitors to invest heavily in acquiring new users, even to the point of buying them out.

What a very interesting thinking experiment this is…

Update 2006-09-19: there’s a lot of coverage about the Zune, but, as Tim Lee points out, nobody seems to talk anymore about the earlier mentioned buy-out scenario… Vaporware?

(*) For now, it is unclear if third parties will be able to develop Zune-like music devices. Tim Lee points out that the Zune won’t be PlaysForSure compatible, giving Microsoft a lot of market power in picking the players (if any) that are allowed to ride the Zune wave.

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