This morning, in a loft in Shoreditch, 7digital announced that their digital music catalogue is to become 100% free of DRM. The last holdout among the major labels – SonyBMG – has bowed to consumer demand and agreed to sell its catalogue of 250,000 tracks in MP3 format, as opposed to the restricted WMA format. Even better, all SonyBMG tracks that customers have previously bought will be upgraded to MP3s at no cost. All MP3s are at 320kbps quality.
This means that 7digital is the first download store in the UK selling all four major labels’ music to go 100% free of DRM. Artists signed to SonyBMG include Bob Dylan, Metallica, Kings of Leon and Michael Jackson. Sony has long been a holdout in terms of MP3 downloads, in contrast with the more open approach of independent labels and some of the other majors like EMI.
This is a monumentous occasion – because it represents a victory for consumers in the battle for digital music. People have long wanted interoperability between their devices, but the only DRM format that will play on an iPod is Apple’s own AAC format. Apple has steadfastly refused to license that format to other online music stores, preventing them from selling iPod compatible music. This announcement means that all music bought from 7digital can be played on iPods.
On top of this announcement, 7digital also announced the release of an open API. Without getting too technical, this means that external developers will be able to get access to 7digital’s library of four million tracks, as well as full metadata, images, biographies and 7digital’s powerful recommendations engine and vast database of song popularity data. Partners will gain up to 10% commission on purchases made through their sites.
If you’re not a developer, they’ve also got a bunch of widgets that you can easily display on your blog or social networking profile by simply copying a chunk of code and pasting it to your profile. This will make it very easy for people to share their favourite music across the web.
This development is undoubtedly a response to Amazon’s forthcoming MP3 store (which is already available in the US) and MySpace Music, which was rumoured to be launching this week. There’s also Nokia’s “Comes with Music” service on the horizon, and Sony Ericsson’s copycat service. It’s a crowded marketplace, but 7digital hope to stand out by offering DRM-free tracks, the highest quality files, an online backup system, and cheap album deals. Currently the service have a number of albums from artists as diverse as Queen and We Are Scientists for just £2.
7digital are actually welcoming the competition. Describing iTunes as the “800lb gorilla in the room”, founder Ben Drury told Tech Digest, “We think we’ve identified their weaknesses.” They’re looking forward to the release of MySpace Music and the Amazon MP3 store, claiming that these sites will expose iTunes’ weaknesses and illustrate to consumers the choice that they have. Then, 7digital hope that consumers will discover that 7digital offer the highest quality MP3s on the market at very cheap rates.
Speaking personally, I’m most excited about the API and partner program – it means that other people will be able to build applications and technologies on 7digital’s vast catalogue of music. There are tonnes of things you could do here – from a service which checks what MP3s you’re playing and automatically downloads album art for you, to a streaming radio station based on your favourite artists – much like Pandora and Last.fm.
Lastly they’re offering two free albums for download. One from Heavenly records – home of Doves, and one from Indiestore – their unsigned artist service. You can find those here.
7digital, is, for my money, the best a-la-carte download store out there available to the UK; cheap prices, 100% MP3 – i.e. compatibility with almost every digital music player known to man – as well as online backup of your music, and the open API. Brilliant. Well done guys. I’m awarding you the Tech Digest Official Star of Awesomness. You’ve earnt it.