DRM-free Apple rumors still just sound and fury

If you listen to the Internet--and I don't recommend you listen too closely, as it will drive you mad as surely as if you were privy to the whispers of the vast underdeeps--then you'd have good reason to think that Apple was going to unleash the rest of their vast iTunes catalog in a DRM-free format on Tuesday.

Pretty much all of those stories link back to a single source, French tech site ElectronLibre, which that on the auspicious date of December 9th, Apple would add DRM-free music from the other three major labels--Universal, Sony, and Warner Music--to its existing offerings from EMI and independent labels.

Needless to say, as of Tuesday afternoon Cupertino time, the grand ascension to a DRM-free heaven hadn't happened. The timing was weird, anyway: December's a pretty quiet month for news usually, and we're less than a month from Macworld Expo. There is the imminent holiday shopping season, but DRM-free music is really only likely to make kiddie-pool-sized waves in the sea of Apple's holiday sales.

I have no doubt that DRM-free tracks are being discussed in some form in the hallowed halls frequented by Apple and the record labels, but don't be surprised if it doesn't happen anytime soon.

Why not? The reason is simple: there is no reason. If that sounds like a spurious Zen koan, just look at the evidence. the, beating out even the brick-and-mortar chains. In the digital download market, its lead is even bigger. And the growth doesn't appear to be slowing, much less shrinking. Much as a vocal minority of consumers hate DRM and refuse to buy songs laden with it, they're still a minority: your average consumer doesn't know DRM from ERA. 

It's a different story for all those other digital music stores: Amazon, Napster, Rhapsody, and Wal-mart all need to be selling DRM-free tracks as the price of admission. Without DRM-free tracks, anything you buy at those stores couldn't be played on an iPod, and without iPod support, those stores would just become yet another set of bygone civilizations now residing on the bottom of the ocean. On the one hand, the seafood's great; on the other, they don't exactly do a raging tourist business.