This weekend marks two endings. One very sad and one very happy.
In this article, Andrew Orlowski sums up the love/hate relationship Manchester had with Anthony H Wilson, who died this weekend. A founder of the legendary Factory records and TV journalist, I remember vividly the first time I saw Anthony Wilson, on Other Side of Midnight, full of pomposity and unnecessary intellectualism, introducing breakthrough bands like Stone Roses in between bizarre folk acts that probably shouldn’t have seen the light of day and certainly not a TV studio. Or on Channel Four’s “After Dark” evoking a spirit of grand elitist debate replete with huge leather chairs, smoke filled rooms and gradually dwindling whisky decanters.
I remember vividly too seeing him in the flesh for the first time backstage at a concert by Durutti Column (whom he supported endlessly), gliding around like Manchester royalty.
Besides his manner and outspoken views, Anthony Wilson was famous for never really managing to make any money (although those around him often did). In his own words ‘Some people make money, some people make history’.
Well perhaps Universal Music Group is trying to make history. On the weekend when we mourn Anthony Wilson, we hear that UMG will ‘test’ DRM free music. The word ‘test’ is UMG trying to keep their options slightly open as they follow EMI down the path of liberalization, but they’re very unlikely to be able to go back to DRM.
The move is a surprise, although not an unwelcome one. While the DRM debate was looking intractable, wholesale surrender hadn’t seemed very likely. The move signals intent from music companies to make their money elsewhere. UMG in particular has been pushing Apple for a cut of profits from iPod sales (a similar deal is in place with Microsoft for the Zune). Interestingly the DRM tracks will initially not be available on iTunes, meaning that iPod owners will need to experiment with other online shops (HMV and Virgin both operate in this area) for DRM-free tracks, that will now be importable into iTunes.
The result will be good for consumers. In breaking Apple’s monopoly on legal iPod-compatible downloads, there will be virtually no breaks on the price war that will ensue. At last we may be close to “decent product, decent price” digital downloads.