Steve Jobs figures out how to charge more for music and music lovers everywhere thank him

What the hell is going on here? Steve Jobs comes up with a way to make Apple even more profitable via a major music label DRM-free offering, announces it to the world, and consumers thank him for higher prices? I know, I know – there’s a bitrate bump, too. I still don’t see the value. To me, the higher quality, DRM free tracks need to get the current price (typically $0.99 per track, I believe) and the DRM, hate-the-consumer protection covered tracks should get a price discount. Or if there’s just no chance of dropping the price on the current bitrate stuff, at least offer it at the same price but without hate-the-consumer protection on it. But I supposed that’s why I’m sitting here criticizing others instead of running a multi-billion dollar computer corporation – I lack vision.

I’ve been buying DRM-free music for years. My current preferred provider is Audio Lunchbox, but there are many others. While they don’t offer the breadth of music Apple has, they offer enough that I like that I don’t care to give my money to less consumer friendly companies that assume I am a thief.

Hallelujah! Apple and EMI just announced that they will be selling DRM-free Apple songs through the iTunes Music Store. The songs will cost 130 percent of the price of the existing crippled songs, and you’ll get to choose. Weirdly, Apple seems to have sold this move to EMI by saying that the DRM-free version will be a “premium” offering for audiophiles who want higher-quality music. I think that audiophiles are probably the people who have the least trouble keeping up with the latest tips for efficiently ripping the DRM off of their music — the people who really need DRM-free music are the punters who can’t even spell DRM.

This is some of the best news I’ve heard all year. DefectiveByDesign is soliciting ideas for a thank-you gift to Steve Jobs. This may just be a sneaky way of hiking music prices, but hell, it’s a whole lot more than I thought we’d get. What’s more, Apple pricing DRM-free music at $1.29 means that the $0.79-0.99 DRM-free MP3s from competing indie music stores will get a huge price advantage.

Jobs, who stressed the need for higher-quality music with the rise of high-fidelity home speaker systems, called EMI’s move “the next big step forward in the digital-music revolution–the movement to completely interoperable DRM-free music.” He added that “Apple will reach out to all the major and independent labels to give them the same opportunity” and suggested that half of iTunes’ music tracks will be available in both DRM-loaded and DRM-free form by the end of 2007.

Naturally, Jobs is more than happy to facilitate this boost to Apple’s profits move to less consumer hostile digital media distribution. I am glad to see that I’m not the only skeptic unconvinced by this announcement.

The watershed moment we’ve all been waiting for — the first of the Big Four music businesses makes one of the most pro-consumer moves we’ve seen in years. Or did they? Was today’s announcement a real commitment dedicated to consumers’ digital rights? Or was it a play for disenfranchised music lovers’ hearts? We have a feeling the answer lies somewhere in the middle — although we can’t help but feel the whole thing is gestural at best, and subterfuge at worst. Here’s why.

I see many, many, many people flocking to the Apple store to spend more money on more music. At least Apple is doing the right thing and allowing consumers to upgrade to the higher quality, DRM-free versions for the difference in price between old and new formats.

[tags]Apple to offer EMI recordings music in DRM free format, Consumers thank Apple for chance to make company more profitable[/tags]