Once again, apple seems to have gotten it right.After launching the most successful MP3 player yet and spending a couple of years unofficially promoting the illegal ripping and burning of music to support these players, Apple has flipped the script and gone legit.
Apple's iTunes Music Store (www.apple.com/music/store) is the first legal online music distributor that actually works, and it may even make users of illicit services like Morpheus think twice about what they're doing.
Launched last week, the service allows users to download 200,000 songs onto their computers for 99 cents (U.S.) each. Thirty-second previews of each song are offered for free, the songs sound better than MP3s and they stay on your machine until you throw them into the trash. Most important, each of the five major labels is involved and is actually giving up the goods.
Sound too good to be true? For those of us who download music but would gladly pay for a service that rivals the scope and accessibility of Napster and Audiogalaxy, it feels that way.
Major record labels have tried on their own to launch legit Web music servers in the past. What tarnished efforts like PressPlay was that the labels didn't seem committed to the idea. The songs they offered were obvious choices, the prices exorbitant and the restrictions heavy. Faced with that, it's no surprise people went with the underground and the illegal choice.
The iTunes service isn't perfect, but it does take a massive step toward bridging the gap between music fans who know what they want and record labels that want to get paid.
The single most important factor here is choice. Its sexy design aside, what's made Apple's iPod so successful is the way it opens up your listening experience. Even on your favourite CD there are bound to be three or four tracks you don't like. The iPod, and iTunes, allowed you to simply upload the songs you wanted and ditch the rest.
The iTunes Store brings that philosophy to the marketplace. Users can buy single songs without having to suffer through the crap. The artists and labels still get paid, and the scope of music, while limited, is much broader than anything offered on the legitimate sites.
There are serious hurdles if this service is to take off, most notably that only Apple users can actually get access to the iTunes Store. Right now it's also only available for U.S. customers or those with a U.S. credit card. A Canadian service is coming, but Apple's not saying when.
For music lovers and those who use their computers to hunt for music, though, this is huge. The best-case scenario is that Apple expands its service and opens it to the PC world. Failing that, someone should rip off the idea and blow it wide open.