Your move, Apple
After seeing the DG Web Shop go online, I couldn't resist. I bought Cheryl Studer's Strauss Vier letzte Lieder, coupled with Wagner's Wesendonck-Lieder and the usual Tristan combo. I picked it up for $10.99, and considering it goes for $38.99 at a major web retailer (plus S&H), I was happy for the bargain.
Apple is in trouble.
You buy the music. You pay for it. You download the ZIP file (or the individual tracks, using the download manager if you're so inclined. I like ZIP files for music). You add the decompressed 320 kbps MP3 files to your music software of choice (iTunes for me). You enjoy.
The sound is good. A.C. Douglas isn't kidding when he says it's CD-quality. I like to think I know good sound and have reasonable equipment for its reproduction. Really, once you get over 192/256 kbps, you start getting excellent playback. In my book, on my headphones, 320 kbps is pretty darned good. I would rather see FLAC downloads (which, of course, can be compressed into any bitrate you want), and Apple start supporting FLAC natively on Mac iTunes, but that's another day.
DG/Universal has squared the circle. DRM-free, high-bitrate, easily downloaded albums, many of which are either out-of-print or hard-to-find? Playable on any platform? Any portable player? Add to this competitive price, especially with the low US dollar at the moment, and you have the perfect storm. I would hope that Universal moves to put more and more of its various holdings' catalogs online in such a brilliant fashion.
Ladies and gentlemen, if this picks up and catches on, I daresay we're seeing a paradigm shift in (1) how online music downloads are treated, and (2) how major labels approach a major profit sector. As to the latter, think about it. No costs other than putting 1s and 0s on the interweb. This model makes sense.
DRM-laden, low-bitrate, and super-proprietary downloading is in danger. Apple should thank its stars for the iPhone.