We’ve spent the last year looking for evidence to prove or disprove a widely held digerati belief — that consumers will gladly pay for online music, as long as it’s not encumbered by digital locks and keys. So far, we have yet to find solid data that supports the argument — even though iTunes (AAPL) has been selling DRM-free tracks from EMI for since the spring of 07, and Amazon (AMZN) now sells DRM-free tracks from all four majors. And because we’re cynical sorts, the lack of real numbers makes us think that the DRM-free tracks aren’t selling significantly faster than their encumbered counterparts.
So what to make of new claims from 7digital, the European music store? The Benchmark-backed digital store, which sells 80% of its 4 million tracks in the unencumbered MP3 format, says sales are up 300% in the last year, and up 130% since January; it says much of that boost came from its unencumbered MP3 tracks.
So let’s put that in context: How many songs is that, exactly?
Alas, 7digital won’t say, which causes those familiar alarm bells to go off. Another alarm bell: 7digital made almost identical claims in January, when it said 2007 sales jumped 188% because of MP3s, but again didn’t attach real numbers to those claims.
We don’t doubt that there is a group of consumers who know and care about DRM, and will make buying decisions based on it. But until someone can demonstrate otherwise — using apples-to-apples to comparisons, with real numbers — we’re going to continue to assume that it’s a very small group.
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