Date: Sunday, July 27th, 2003, 09:56
Apple has reportedly gotten the cooperation of only two of the labels that jumped onto iTunes Music Store for the Mac for the planned Windows version. This week, Microsoft publicly suggested it is “considering” a Windows music store of its own, reports CNet. Is Apple’s own success making labels nervous, afraid to wake the Redmond giant?
It wouldn’t be the first time. Microsoft is busy trying to strong-arm all digital media into proprietary formats, from the movies you see at the cineplex to the latest hit singles, and they’ve been known to prefer exclusive contracts. That said, BuyMusic seems to have done just fine acquiring 300,000 songs, though with DRM and pricing rules that are so complex as to make the whole service useless. But labels have signed with other services, too.
Let’s face it: some things have a distinct smell. BuyMusic, PressPlay, and the bunch: does anyone really believe these services will be around in a few years? I’m reminded of the intriguing but limited early MP3 players during the Time Before iPod. Everyone knows that Apple’s got the service people will actually use.
Apple is more threatening to change-wary labels because of its potential for success — especially as they try to stay in good standing with Redmond, who only wants them on Windows Media formats. The other Windows “solutions” all are based on Microsoft infrastructure, with its restricted DRM. Remember, Microsoft wants to own the platform, not necessarily the front-end. That makes Microsoft the real threat, but labels may not be smart enough to see that. If Microsoft additionally owns the front-end, too, the platform for listening, and integrates music purchasing into the operating system (great, more monopoly abuse), they could very quickly own the entire music industry.
No need to get too nervous too fast. Apple projected a late-year release presumably because they anticipated some delays getting more labels on board and, frankly, unless you’re one of Apple’s people working with the labels none of us knows how far they’ve gotten. The PC side is moving slow, as always, and the pale competitors are more likely to drive up demand for a service that actually works.
If Apple can keep the labels from getting cold feet, there’s no question it’ll beat Microsoft to market. Remember the MP3 player market: think how many consumer electronics giants got into the fray. Even the company that invented the Walkman still hasn’t produced an MP3 player anyone in their right mind would actually buy, while Apple was able to overcome the perception (indeed, the reality!) that the company made just Mac-only hardware.
As long as Apple has a decent launch library, it’s about to own digital music sales. And because it isn’t trying to build infrastructure like Microsoft or partner with everyone like its competitors, Apple will finally be calling the shots. That’ll be a victory not only for Apple but for sensible DRM and standards-based media, because Apple is the only company that’s going forward with MPEG-4 standards video, opening up later compatibility to everything from stereos and TVs to mobile phones.