Not the Same Old Song: Apple's New Music Service Just May Break the Digital Logjam

Article excerpt

Byline: Steven Levy

Steve would have made a good rock star," said Roger Ames after Apple CEO Steve Jobs's tour de force introduction last week of the Apple iTunes Music Store. Ames, the head of Warner Music Group, knows rock stars--and he also knows that something had to be done to change his industry's relationship to the Internet, from black hole to bankroll. Will Apple's bold introduction of a friendly online music store (built into its iTunes software, available only on Macintoshes and synced to iPods) break the logjam? "Absolutely," says Jobs. "This is huge." But plenty of questions remain. NEWSWEEK takes on a some key ones:

What's the big deal about the Apple Music Store?

Don't think of it as a "down-load service" but a terrific online destination--a well-designed, easily navigable Web site that welcomes browsing (hear a high-quality sample of every one of the 200,000 songs), offers special items (unreleased cuts by Bob Dylan and Eminem) and, when you decide you want a song, instantly sends it to you with a single click. In other words, it's the first legal service that doesn't bludgeon you with what you can't do (and generally regards you with all the trust that Winona Ryder would receive on a return visit to Saks), but celebrates what you can do. When you buy a song, it's yours forever, with common-sense restrictions most consumers won't ever run across. You can, for instance, burn songs into all the CDs you like, as long as no more than 10 disks share the same selection of tunes.

Can a service charging 99 cents a song compete with a free one?

Services like KaZaA or Morpheus may be free, but you have to dodge ads and porn. Worse, the quality of the songs varies; often you'll spend 10 minutes downloading something and find that it sounds awful, or the end is cut off. Many people will happily pay a buck for quality and ease. Indeed, on its first day, April 28, Apple Music Store reportedly sold more than 200,000 songs.

Why aren't more songs available--and why are some artists (Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc.) missing?

In some cases, artists have been reluctant to sell on the Net. But it will also take time to transfer the catalogs of the five major labels to digital. "We'll have more every week," Jobs promises. …