Zune- DRM friendly, consumer unfriendly... so does Neil Young have the answer?

by Jason Gross

9 May 2008


OK, so what have the entertainment companies learned from trying to educate and fight and figure out consumers in the digital age?  Apparently nothing, which is why they’re working with Microsoft to make the Zune more user unfriendly and full of DRM.  Their theory is that as much as consumers hate to have restrictions on why they listen to or watch, they’ll still begrudgingly flock to the legal digital media alternatives because they have no choice. 

The problem is that consumers do have a choice and that’s to go to unauthorized downloading channels and get the material without all the locks and even with all the lawsuits that the RIAA piles on college campuses, there’s little evidence that it’s had its intended effect of scaring people into only using label-authorized downloading options.  In other words, the pact with Zune will probably have the opposite effect- music and movie fans will shun Zune (which is already hurting in competition with the iPod) rather than embracing it.

If these knuckleheads have a chance of getting potential consumers to embrace and buy into authorized formats, they stand a better chance (though not assured) by getting artists to pony up exclusive material there.  A recent example of this is Neil Young’s embrace of the Blu-Ray format, which might even help him release his long-threatened Archives series. 

Young argues that the new technology lets him deliver more multi-media goodies in a higher quality format.  While he’s right about Blu-Ray (which is compatible with DVD and CD’s for now), the question is whether only rabid fans will take the plunge and invest in the new technology or not.  If I had to bet, I’d say that it’s unlikely unless many other artists follow Neil’s lead and put out exclusive material in Blu-Ray format.  Even then, it would be a hard sell to get Gen X to shell out money for to replace music that they already replaced from vinyl to CD.  For all the arguments about how MP3’s suck in terms of sound quality, the fact of the matter is that most people ain’t audiophiles and usually don’t notice the difference or care enough to buy a new format player and then replace their collection with higher quality music or movies.  As for the post-millennium generation, good luck trying to convert them unless the industry wants to effectively kill off the old formats the same way they did with vinyl (which I think would be a disaster too, even if the market for physical product is dying down as there’s still a loyal though smaller following).

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