Diabetics beware: Devin Leonard’s feature on the new Apple iTunes Music Store is so larded with sugar and honey it might induce seizures:
- The real buzz in the music trade is that Steve has just created what is easily the most promising legal digital music service on the market. “I think it’s going to be amazing,” says Roger Ames, CEO of the Warner Music Group. Jobs, not surprisingly, is even more effusive. He claims his digital store will forever change not only how music is sold and distributed but also the way artists release and market songs and how they are bought and used by fans.
One thing’s for sure: If ever there was an industry in need of transformation, it’s the music business. U.S. music sales plunged 8.2% last year, largely because songs are being distributed free on the Internet through illicit file-sharing destinations like KaZaA. Unlike Napster, KaZaA and its brethren have no central servers, making them tougher for the industry to shut down. The majors have tried to come up with legal alternatives. But none of those ventures have taken off because they are too pricey and user-hostile.
The iTunes Music Store, by contrast, is as simple and straightforward as anything Jobs has ever produced. Apple users get to the store by clicking a button on the iTunes 4 jukebox, available for download when the service made its debut on April 28. You can listen to a 30-second preview of any song and then, with one click, buy a high-quality audio copy for 99 cents. There’s no monthly subscription fee, and consumers have virtually unfettered ownership of the music they download. Jobs is rolling out the iTunes store with previously unreleased material by artists including Bob Dylan, U2, Missy Elliott, and Sheryl Crow. There will be music from bands like the Eagles, who have never before allowed their songs to be sold by a legal digital music service. And Jobs is personally lobbying other big-name holdouts, like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, to come aboard.
The iTunes Music Store may be just the thing to get Apple rocking again too. As everyone knows, it’s been a tough couple of years for the computer industry as well. Apple swung back into the black in the first quarter of 2003 after two quarterly losses, but its profits were only $14 million, compared with $40 million a year ago. And as popular as Apple’s iPod portable MP3 player may be, it contributed less than $25 million of Apple’s $1.48 billion in revenues last quarter. So Jobs is betting that by offering customers “Hotel California” for 99 cents, he can sell not just more iPods but more Macs too….
Yadda, yadda, yadda. This is a fine thing, and I’m glad the idea of digital music is getting all of this attention, but two enormous problems remain: the price ($.99 per song – 2 to 4 times too much) and the fact that it is Apple only. The Windows version won’t be out until next year. By trying to force users into the Apple computer market he is ignoring 97% of the current personal computer market.