Big news in the digital music world today, as Steve Jobs announced Apple is taking the first steps to a more open digital music industry. The entire EMI music catalog will be available on iTunes starting May 1 with no DRM – that means no burning, backing up or any other restrictions on the downloaded tracks. They’ll also be higher quality – 256k vs 128k AAC’s – as well as higher in price – $1.29 US vs $0.99.

Several things are great about this:

  • (1) Online music purchases finally give you the same rights as a consumer you’ve been enjoying with CD’s for years: make a copy for your car, take some tracks to work, use any player you want, and yes, make a mix for a friend. As the AAC format (when not locked by iTunes) is open-source and fairly universal, the only limits to where you can take your music are technological, not ideological, and as we all know the technological limits get wider every day.
  • (2) There’s an upgrade option for people with existing iTunes collections: pay the $0.30 difference and get the track in 256k, DRM-free. A less-consumer-oriented company would have asked you to repurchase tracks in the new format at full value (I’m looking at you, Sony) but that’s not how Steve Jobs rolls.
  • (3) Full albums in the new high-quality, no-restrictions format will be the same price as the album was before. Music companies are desperately trying to save the full-album-purchase idea in the face of single-track ala carte shopping, and those of us who still buy whole albums will benefit from that desperation.
  • (4) This will first put the pressure on the rest of Apple’s music company providers to follow suit. Then, it will put the pressure on other online sellers to jump on the bandwagon in the name of consumer choice (and, arguably, higher margins on track sales).

So, hang on to that iTunes gift certificate a little longer… or buy the tracks you’ve been wanting now and upgrade (and unlock) them in a month. Either way, chalk up one victory for the consumer, and one for Steve Jobs and Apple.