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Yahoo pulls an MSN Music (only faster)

Yahoo_music_logoThis afternoon, Yahoo alerted customers of its erstwhile downloadable music store that it would no longer provide support after Sept. 30 (download the cheerful e-mail here). The upshot: starting Oct. 1, said customers won't be able to revive frozen tracks or move working ones onto new hard drives or computers, because Yahoo won't be providing any more keys to the songs' DRM wrappers. But hey, they can always buy MP3 versions from Yahoo's new partner Rhapsody!

Yahoo is cutting off support at an unusually speedy pace for a company that's not going out of business. Consumer backlash prompted Microsoft to extend support for tracks bought from the defunct MSN Music store by at least three years. And Sony, which closed its Connect music store in March, will continue to support those tracks until the end of the year. Perhaps Yahoo will feel a similar blast of heat and maintain its DRM servers for a while longer. Or maybe it sold so few tracks that no one will care.

I've already said that my outrage needle isn't really moved by decisions such as Yahoo's. Plenty of online music sellers crashed and burned before the major labels stopped demanding that 99-cent downloads be warped wrapped in DRM. Consumers should be used to this routine by now. Beyond that, buyers should have been backing up their purchases onto DRM-free CDs to protect their data. If they hadn't been doing so, the email from Yahoo Music should provide enough incentive to do it now. Yes, they may lose some fidelity in the translation from DRM'ed file to CD to MP3, depending on the bit rates involved. But that's a small price to pay for extended life in an era of accelerated obsolescence.

It's also worth saying that Yahoo Music's last two top executives, Dave Goldberg (now a VC) and Ian Rogers (now at Topspin Media) were both strong advocates of a DRM-free approach to music. That's why it would be ironic for consumers to be ticked off at Yahoo, which didn't have either the leverage to change the labels' policy or the patience to wait on the sidelines (a la Amazon.com). Nevertheless, consumers are most likely to direct their ire at the company that sold them the soon-to-be irreparable goods, not at the wholesaler responsible for the defect.

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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