Following The Open Letter-Off of '07 in February, it looks like Steve Jobs has reached one of the four major record labels (or they reached him, perhaps spurring his original open letter). Apple and EMI jointly announced yesterday that EMI will allow sales of its catalog without any DRM (DRM = copy protection) as "premium downloads" on all major music stores, including Apple's iTunes Store. DRM-laden tracks will continue to be sold at existing price points.
At the iTunes Store, individual premium tracks will cost $1.29 (or 1.29 Euros or 99 pence) and will be encoded at twice the bit rate as normal DRM-encumbered tracks, offering better sound quality (and larger files...). This appears to be a move to offer something more than just "taking away DRM" for that $0.30. According to EMI's press release, full albums will be available in the new DRM-free format, for the same price as DRM albums. Thus the 30-cent premium is for individually purchased tracks only. This new full-album choice should allow EMI and Apple to measure whether consumers prefer DRM or non-DRM music at the same price point (given that the premium tracks are also higher-quality, it's a good bet that buyers will prefer the "premium" albums if they don't have to pay extra). The new premium tracks will be available sometime in May, and Apple predicted that by the end of 2007, half of the songs sold on iTunes will be offered without DRM. This may be wishful thinking, as other labels haven't signed on yet -- but given the extra per-track price premium, this might be a hit with recording industry business types.