Whether or not Steve Jobs is interested in owning a record label, he clearly wants to be in the music business.
For months, the man best-known in the recording industry for the slogan “Rip, Mix, Burn” has been seeking a new identity: the saviour whose online-music service could represent the future for an industry struggling with the devastating effects of new technology.
The pitch has worked: Mr Jobs’s Apple Computer Inc will be launching its own music service in coming weeks, with songs from all five major record labels.
The new music service will be integrated with Apple’s iTunes music software, which is used to organise and play MP3 music files. Instead of selling subscriptions, it is expected to focus on individual songs, charging consumers about US99 ¢ ($1.65) each for most tracks.
The service is said to be more consumer-friendly than most of the other legitimate online-music services, with a simplicity that makes it easy for consumers to purchase a song and move it to the popular Apple iPod devices. But it will only be available to Mac users, who comprise only about 5 per cent of the global market.
An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the new service.
By launching his own service, Mr Jobs also is filling a crucial need for his line of Mac computers. Currently, most other online music services – including the record-label backed services pressplay (www.pressplay.com) and MusicNet, as well as Listen.com’s Rhapsody service – do not support Apple’s Macintosh software. Apple’s audience remains tiny, despite the launch of Apple retail stores, new products such as servers and other new hardware and software.
Mr Jobs is an unlikely hero for the music industry. Critics say he has marketed his products as tools for getting free online tunes and burning them onto home-made compact discs – which in the eyes of many recording executives enables the theft that has been destroying their business. Mr Jobs has long criticised the online-music services already offered by companies owned by the labels and others as being difficult to use. He has maintained that the only barrier facing people who want to enjoy online digital music is the lack of a good legitimate service.
To win over sceptical music-industry officials, Mr Jobs embarked on a campaign by meeting with many executives. He evangelised strongly for the new initiative and managed to persuade many that his new creation, armed with Apple’s trademark elegance and simplicity, could win over consumers to the idea of paying for online music.
The problem for Mr Jobs, as with his competitors, is that any service must compete with the availability of unlimited free songs on internet peer-to-peer swapping services such as Kazaa (www.kazaa.com) or Morpheus (www.morpheus.com). Though the new Apple offering is expected to have a broad catalogue, rights issues make it unlikely that it can match the selection of music from unauthorised bazaars.