No sooner do the stories about EMI selling music in rights free formats online do the rounds than they are followed up with stories that negotiations with retailers have stalled. The key stumbling block is that EMI were demanding an up front fee in addition to standard per track fees in order to offset some of their additional risk. The prospective retailer partners appear to have baulked at the idea.
Though this is widely being reported as a major blow to the move away from DRM I don’t see it that way. The fact that such advanced discussions are in play is an indication of how far along this process is. The fact is that the DRM digital music model is not driving mainstream online uptake. Secondly interoperability issues (though not yet truly a consumer issue) have created a Balkanized market place that labels want to be able to sell across without restrictions. Also, the fight against file sharing is not being won and DRM is not doing anything close to a sufficient job of preventing online piracy. CD ripping is actually a much bigger deal and the labels are moving away from CD copy protection after painful experiences such as the root-kit debacle. Added to that, there is widespread consensus among the music industry to look at alternatives to DRM.
So the tide is turning. That doesn’t mean that DRM is about to completely disappear, but it does mean that we’ll start to see significant chunks of major label content will start to become freed of its DRM shackles.