Hard News by Russell Brown


You've gotta hand it to Steve

You've gotta hand it to Steve. Yesterday's announcement that EMI will make almost its entire catalogue available via Apple's iTunes Music Store in high-quality non-DRM format from next month. What happened was an elegant solution to at least six different issues, which are, in no particular order:

1. A small but vocal minority of iTunes users has been calling for higher-bitrate files.

2. The major record labels have been trying to shift Apple off its one-size-fits-all pricing.

3. The same labels are battling a shift away from album purchases online.

4. Steve Jobs was under some pressure to take some concrete action to back up his open letter about how music sales would be better with no DRM.

5. For all the iPod's market-conquering success, the fact that iTunes downloads were incompatible with other portable players was only going to become more of a problem.

6. EMI's music business needed a circuit-breaker to arrest its alarming financial decline.

The new 256kbit/s DRM-free AAC files will cost slightly more for single purchases, but album prices will remain the same, increasing the incentive for consumers to purchase whole albums. You'll be able to pony up the cash difference to upgrade your whole EMI catalogue, meaning a nice little welcome-in windfall for EMI.

Will the new downloads wind up on the file-sharing services? Of course. But Apple has nothing to lose from the AAC format starting to crowd out MP3 in the wider (that is, including pirated) market, especially when Microsoft is trying to lock in its own proprietary WMA as the format of choice. And neither do we: MP3 is an outdated technology stuck in a patent mess. There are already quite a few mobile players that support AAC and, significantly, they include most 3G mobile phones.

The signal appears to be that this deal will extend beyond iTunes. And I daresay the people at this country's biggest digital music store - Vodafone's one - will be studying the news with interest. Their fare is currently DRM-infested WMA files. Is there any reason they would not want to sell EMI's music in a format that's not only compatible with their phones, but plays on an iPod and (when it comes) and iPhone too?

It puts EMI Music New Zealand in an ironic position of course, given that the company was party last week to RIANZ's select committee testament to the holy status of DRM. I can't see how the local artists EMI distributes - including Goldenhorse, the Black Seeds, the Datsuns, Salmonella Dub and Blindspott - would not be party to the deal.

British-based PA reader David Lucas notes a smaller, but still significant shift. A radio group convinces the British PPL (which licenses the use of music recordings) that the sky won't fall if 30-sec chunks of music are included in radio podcasts. Huzzah!

Fun corner: an even bigger music industry announcement yesterday turned out to be an April Fool's Day joke. Shame, really …

Elsewhere: Augie Auer just gets more, um, interesting. Latest public utterance: demanding that NIWA be closed down because he doesn't like its findings on climate change. The backdrop to this, although I'm not sure how directly relevant it is here, is the dispute between NIWA and MetService over who gets to make weather forecasts. NIWA believes it has better models (it certainly has a bigger computer) and that forecasting is implicit in its task of predicting longer-term weather trends. MetService doesn't think so.

And, finally, reader Matt queries the police recruiting banner that appears across the top of these pages:

I'm interested to know if there was any pressure put on Public Address to accept the police as an advertiser subsequent to your accurate observations surrounding the Clint Rickards / Bob Schollum case(s), or whether they simply paid too well that Public Address couldn't refuse.

That would be funny, but no. I didn't even know the ad had been sold until I saw it. It was booked via our arrangement with Scoop, and I presume an agency and the Internet Bureau were involved too. It's part of a wider campaign embracing billboards and adshell advertising.

It just seems that as far as target audiences go, Public Address readers don't really seem to fit into the likely group of potential police recruits.

Possibly not, but they're welcome to try.

I am genuinely interested if there were any 2nd thoughts or hesitations about advertising for the police recruitment drive, given the recent Louise Nicholas and other cases which have illuminated some rather nasty aspects of the culture within our police force.

Of course not. I don't blame every policeman for the actions of a few.

So, I while I understand that some bad apples don't spoil the barrel, it just seems unusual to me that Public Address which has a great niche audience and no doubt employs selective marketing, would actively go out and seek this kind of advertising - and so I am genuinely interested in the real politik that surrounds these issues.

Er, there isn't any …

And just for the hell of it, Bill Maher's 'New Rules' is always funny. He also riffs on one of his favourites, drug policy.

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