Steven Levy recounts and celebrates the “iPod Revolution,” the story of everyone’s favorite portable digital music device. Now, I’ve always been an Apple fan, always been a Mac user, and I’m glad to see the company prospering. That said, it’s pretty irresponsible to do what Levy does here and leave out the roll a really dumb law and some business blunders by the record labels have played in the iPod’s rise to hegemony.
In particular, if you went out and bought an iPod, and then you wanted to legally acquire some music for it, the only place you could turn was the iTunes Music Store. And, once you’d built up a library of songs purchased through the iTunes Music Store, the only place you can play the songs is . . . on an iPod. So if when your iPod’s battery dies, you think to yourself “fuck this, I’m going to buy a different company’s player,” well, doing that will require you to re-buy all your music. So you buy another iPod, and you buy more music and you’re further and further locked-in. Even better, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it illegal for a rival firm to construct a player capable of playing legally owned iTunes Music Store files. This is a great deal for Apple who, in virtue of being first, gets to entrench its advantage deeper-and-deeper but it’s not very smart legislation.
Even weirder, using Digital Rights Management to produce this sort of circular lock-in wasn’t Apple’s initial plan for the music store. Instead, they wound up incorporating the DRM features that are key to their business model at the insistence of the record companies, who haven’t actually accomplished anything for themselves (it’s still very easy to illegally download MP3 files) while accidentally creating a new music industry juggernaut.