Apple offers variable pricing, more DRM-free music on iTunes

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After fighting with record labels over its everything-for-99-cents stance, Apple today said it would finally start offering different songs at different prices. Apple is the No. 1 music seller in the U.S., so the fact that it’s finally doing what capitalists everywhere have always done -- charge more for, say, a hot new Lil Wayne track and less for an old tune by Yanni -- is sure to ripple through the music industry and could give consumers more reasons to buy digital downloads.

In the new iTunes pricing system, songs will cost either 69 cents, 99 cents or $1.29 apiece. In a press release, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs (who let Senior Vice President Phil Schiller handle today’s Macworld keynote address) said that ‘many more songs’ would cost 69 cents than $1.29. Apple said it would set the prices based on what the record labels charge it. The company started giving content owners a little more pricing flexibility last year after a major dispute with NBC Universal; Apple agreed to let NBC sell some of its movies and TV shows for prices other than usual $1.99 it had charged for videos.


Another big change announced today: Apple’s entire music catalog -- 8 million songs today and the remaining 2 million by the end of March -- is going to be available in versions that are stripped of anti-copying software. That means that you have the option to say goodbye to the digital handcuffs that limit the type of digital media players you can transfer music to and the number of times you can burn a playlist to CD.

Apple previously had offered DRM-free music from only EMI Group, but it said today that it had reached similar deals with the other big three record labels: Universal Music Group, Sony BMG and Warner Music Group. ITunes users who have bought music in the past can upgrade their songs to the DRM-free format, which Apple calls iTunes Plus, for 30 cents a song or 30% of the cost of an album.

Finally, Apple is letting iPhone 3G owners download music to their hand-held devices via the 3G network like they currently can via Wi-Fi.

-- Chris Gaither