Today at 1pm the world of online music buying was changed in a big way when Steve Jobs announced that DRM-free music will be available from the iTunes store. The DRM-free music will be 99p per track (instead of 79p for DRM) but will be at twice the bitrate, which is 256Kbps AAC. The per-album price will be the same as for DRM-restricted albums, and users will be able to upgrade their existing DRM-restricted tracks.
So why is this big news? Well for one thing DRM-free music is what everyone wants. You will now be able to buy music from the iTunes store and play it on any device, whether portable player or computer, etc. The higher bitrate is an added bonus of course as music will now sound even better. The objects that some people had about buying music on iTunes were largely about 'lock-in', but now all of those objections no longer apply. If people really object to the higher price and don't care about DRM then they can still buy the DRM-restricted files. Everyone is a winner!
The best thing about this move is of course that it will kill the WMA format. EVerything can play unprotected AAC files (yes, even the Zune), and the iTunes store easily has the largest selection of music available of all of the online music sites. The Zune wasn't an attempt at a competitive music player, it was an attempt to lock people into WMA, and therefore Windows. The multiplatform AAC and iTunes now stomps all over it as you'd be daft to buy your music anywhere else. WMA is dead as a commercial digital music format.
The consumer will benefit. Other music stores that only offer DRM-limited files will have to remove the DRM to compete, and at that point all online music stores will be competing on 'real' terms - price, available selection, and so on. It is a good day for everyone, even those who don't care for the iTunes store. Freedom of the user, and value for money, has been substantially increased.
Only EMI have signed-up so far, but that's about 20% of the music. The other labels will sign-up if they see that the EMI move is sucessful, so let's make that success happen! At least one of your favourite artists will be on EMI - buy a DRM-free track of theirs when you can and lets show that we consumers want the freedom to play our music on whatever device we want to.