Steve Jobs on DRM: The Business Strategy Behind the Manifesto

JobsdrmMost of the outside world didn’t care. They didn’t even know what Steve Jobs was talking about. But within tech circles it was a big deal, a landmark moment. Jobs’ s anti-DRM manifesto, Thoughts on Music, moved us all closer to the day when music would be set free. (DRM = Digital Rights Management. Get more info here.) The reaction in the tech press was, of course, jubilant. Here’s a quick sample reaction from the major tech blog, Gizmodo:

“Steve Jobs dropped a big one on us today, and no it wasn’t a new MacBook. Instead it was his anti-DRM Manifesto, a state of the union for the music industry so to speak. In a nutshell, he advised the music industry to give up on DRM. It won’t work. There are smart people circumventing this stuff, and with all the CDs being ripped in the world, just give up on it.

Amazing to hear the man speak without the PR mouthpiece, without regards to anything but what he feels is right for the world. He even throws the iPod/iTunes monopoly to the wind with these notions.”

Now before we start a petition to canonize Jobs, it seems worth reflecting for a moment on whether St. Steve found religion, or whether Jobs was just being a brilliant CEO … yet again. And that’s why its worth giving a listen to Robert X. Cringely’s recent podcast article DRM Catcher (iTunesFeed). (You can also read the text version here.) Cringely is a particularly astute observer of how technology trends dovetail with business strategies, and he’s right to see Jobs’ manifesto as driven less by ideals than by what makes the most business sense for Apple at this particular moment. DRM helped put Apple into its market leadership position. Now, having a lock on 75% of the market, the best way to sell more iPods is to drop DRM. It’s smart business thinking that you see at work here, not altruism. You can bet on that.

Give the podcast some of your time, and be sure to listen to the part about Google’s ambitious web strategy, which ties into his recent thinking (see this piece) about the big plans that Google has on the horizon.

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