Though this hasn't been confirmed by Apple, the Los Angeles times reports this morning (free registration or username/password: digitaltavern) that Apple will launch an online music service allowing users to purchase music online and download into their iPods or iTunes application on their Mac.
[…] Apple offering won over music executives because it makes buying and downloading music as simple and non-technical as buying a book from Amazon.com. [ … ] “This is exactly what the music industry has been waiting for,” said one person familiar with the negotiations between the Cupertino, Calif., computer maker and the labels. “It's hip. It's quick. It's easy. If people on the Internet are actually interested in buying music, not just stealing it, this is the answer.” LA Times 3/4/03
If this is true and the service is priced right Apple has found a revenue stream that could be quite profitable while continuing to build a solid case of differentiation for its computer and consumer electronic product lines.
Would I buy music online? Sure. But the bit rate must be user selectable. I just won't accept anything samples at less than 256 kbps. The problem with most current legal (Pressplay, MusicNet etc.) (and illegal peer-to-peer networks Limewire, Kaaza, Gnuella etc.) online/downloadable music is that it's sampled at 128 or 160. Might be likely to find a 192. According to the LA Times, Apple will initroduce a new version of iTunes that supports a new file format (using a new advanced codec) that be higher quality than MP3. Does this mean new iPods? Certainly updated software for the 100,000's that Apple has sold of the current iPod. But more importantly, apparantly the new format has an embedded lock that would allow the song to be playable on only one Mac or iPod registered with Apple. It's unclear whether the format would be burnable to CDs. And perhaps it's this lock that the record industry really is having a love affair with. Just another tool to strenghthen their grip on the market and appease their fear of digital music.
But there's more. We all know this is where the future of music is going. Problem is who controls what's available on Apple's online service. If it turns out to be just an online version of what you find at CD listening posts/bars at large retailers such as Border's, Tower, Virgin etc., then it's just another way the large record companies can force feed us music that we may or may not want to listen to or even consider buying. But if Apple opens the service to allow small independent labels and musicians (not unlike MP3.com) a chance to sell music online we will begin to see the rules change.
Is this a rumour? Don't know. I guess we'll just wait and see.