Amazon unveiled it's MP3 store beta yesterday, and all the MP3's are DRM-Free. That's hot. Congrats to Bill and the team in Seattle for getting this out the door.
One of the issues with trying to buy music legally in the past was always that lack of parity with music you could rip off of CD's yourself or download illegally. Buying through iTunes Music Store meant living with its DRM.
There are sites like eMusic that allow you to download DRM-free songs (eMusic offers MP3's at 192K VBR), but you had to buy a monthly subscription. That's a limited market because consumers have a psychological hurdle when it comes to subscriptions, even if it works out better for them price-wise in the long run. Consumers want to be able to buy one song at a time. It's been pretty hard to do that up until now. Apple now has some DRM-free songs in their library, but they cost $1.29 each, and only a subset of their library was available that way due to lack of movement on the part of music labels.
Apple's DRM wouldn't be as objectionable to most consumers if Apple would just license it's DRM to other retailers so that they could also sell music that could play on iPods, by far the most popular portable music player. But that hasn't happened (I suspect Apple refused to license Fairplay to keep a moat around their iTunes Music Store), and so I rarely buy songs through the iTunes Music Store. DRM is a penalty to those who want to buy music legally (and hardly deterrent for those who don't), and that's a terrible message to send to the marketplace.
The end around is just what Amazon did--wait until the labels were ready to release lots of DRM-free music that can be played on iPods. It helps Amazon that many movie studios and music labels are not happy with Apple. Amazon, on the other hand, has never been anything but a massive sales partner for them.
The net result is this: now if you want to buy DRM-free music legally and support the artists who sell it, you can do it for a lot of music fairly easily. The type of person who refuses to buy music legally at all is a lost cause for the music industry. You can throw them in jail, but you're not going to make much money off of them anyhow. But there are still lots of people who want to support the artists they love and who want to be able to listen to their music anywhere, on any device.
I won't sit here and pretend I haven't downloaded my share of MP3's over the years off the Internet and MP3 blogs. It's easy to be seduced by the dark side when you feel like the music industry is colluding to keep CD prices high or to make it as hard as possible for you to download DRM-free music legally. But there's no excuse now. The labels let a lot of time go by, but hopefully they've acted in time to salvage the good guys among the music buyers.
Sidenote: I'm not entirely sure how the track pricing works yet. For example, for In Our Bedroom After the War by Stars, all tracks are $0.99 except track 3, which is $0.89. That's not the shortest track, so I'm not sure why it's $0.10 cheaper.