It was bound to happen sooner-or-later, and it looks like sooner-or-later is here. Apple’s iTunes store—in partnership with EMI—is now selling DRM-free mp3s. These mp3s are priced at a $.30 premium (though full albums are still at the same rate) and are encoded at 256 kb/s. That means roughly double the quality of their traditionally 128 kb/s AAC files.
This is terrific news for individual consumers, who will likely appreciate the quality boost in addition to the convenience of not having to deal with all the hassles of DRM. Libraries, unfortunately, more or less need DRM under current laws and licensing agreements to retain any fair use argument for circulating MP3s at libraries. And while 128 kb/s files aren’t ideal, one (admittedly unscientific) study comparing the two files finds that the younger listeners are less tuned into the differences between the files than their older counterparts. Like “analog” teens dancing around to music from tinny portable radio speakers in past decades, many of today’s teens have lower expectations for digital sound quality, even as they develop a preference for vinyl LPs over all. So, it’s not too much of a loss.
Shameless self-plug: you can learn about developing MP3 collections (and other fantastic digital music topics) at ALA Annual this year in the “To iPods & Beyond” program. I am developing this program with the fantastic Tanya J. Brown and Christina Roest, and we think it will be a very informative and fun session of digital rocking and rolling. Look for us on Sunday, June 24th @ 1:30 PM.