Mac Musings

Sony BMG Selling Albums Incompatible with iTunes, iPod

Daniel Knight - 2005.08.08

It's finally happened: One of the big record labels has released a couple of popular new albums on protected CDs,* making them incompatible with iTunes - and thus incompatible with iPods as well.

In this case, it's Sony BMG protecting In Your Honor from the Foo Fighters and Stand Up from the Dave Matthews Band. A Reuters article (link below) notes that In Your Honor has sold 736,000 copies in the US, including 23,000 digital copies (3.1%), and Stand Up has sold 1.1 million copies, including 56,000 digital ones (5.1%).

You have to wonder if they might have sold even more without digital rights management (DRM).+

Both CDs have seen very good sales, but they've also received quite a bit of negative feedback because of their incompatibility with iTunes - something the buyer doesn't discover until they try to rip the CD on their Mac or Windows XP computer. According to the Reuters article, about one-third of the customer reviews on Amazon include negative comments about this.

The solution for iTunes users? If they have access to a Windows PC, burn one of three authorized copies of the CD on your PC and then rip the newly burned CD in iTunes. If they don't have access to a Windows PC, ante up for the digital copy (both are available from the iTunes Music Store). There is no "fair use" provision for Mac owners or others who buy these CDs and don't use Windows XP and have a CD burner.

Why would Sony BMG want to make it so difficult for at least 10% of their customer base - 30 million iPod owners plus others who use iTunes plus Linux users - to enjoy the music they've purchased? Why force them to go through the extra step of copying an album before they can rip it?


The first solution Sony BMG should offer is buying back these protected CDs from anyone who can't use them on their Macs or doesn't want to deal with the "burn a copy and then rip it into iTunes" bother on their Windows PC. As an alternative to a buy back, Sony BMG could offer full credit toward buying the digital version from iTMS.

The second best solution would be for Sony BMG to very clearly label their CDs as incompatible with iTunes and iPods. Very clearly. In big type. On the front of the package. Failure to do so misleads consumers who believe that they are buying a standard CD that can be used anywhere.

The best solution, of course, is to completely dispense with DRM on CDs. CDs are destined to go the way of the LP. They may not quite disappear, but with 30 million iPods already out there and 5% of Dave Matthews Band fans buying the latest album digitally, the handwriting is on the wall.

Making CDs more difficult to use with iTunes will only hasten the demise of the format, giving Apple's iTunes Music Store that much more leverage with the record companies.

And you can be sure that's the last thing Sony BMG wants.

* We recognize that copy-protected CDs are not true CDs - that is, they do not comply with the published standards for music CDs. That said, the term is used generically for CDs and other media that can be played in CD players. That is how we use it here.

+ One reader emailus suggested DRM should stand for Digital Restrictions Managment. Since the whole point of DRM is to protect the publisher's rights by restricting the users options, I wholeheartedly agree. dk