Apple to introduce Mac-only music service, MPEG-4 AAC support for iPod

The L.A. Times is reporting that Apple will be introducing a Mac-only music service, using iTunes as the client and MPEG-4 AAC (rather than MP3) as the delivery format. A source told the L.A. Times:

This is exactly what the music industry has been waiting for. 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.

Yeeesh — clearly an Apple marketeer using the Times to say what they can’t officially say as an Apple marketeer. Happily, just after that vacuous quote comes this useful perspective from the story’s author, Jon Healey:

That ease of use has music executives optimistic that the Apple service will be an effective antidote to surging piracy on the Internet, sources said.

Other legitimate music services have cumbersome technology and pricing plans — motivated in part by the labels’ demands for security — that make them much harder to use than unauthorized online services, such as the Kazaa file-sharing system.

Bingo. The customer is not the enemy, but the customer wants what they want. People wouldn’t steal music if there was a legit, reasonably-priced alternative that provided the same convenience and freedoms. In fact, commercial services should be able to provide far more convenience with features like better searching, affinity-based recommendations, and fast and reliable downloads. But if the Apple service uses DRM to restrict what users can do — and the L.A. Times story suggests that it will — then Apple’s service is going to suffer from the same lethargic uptake as the others.

Apple has apparently signed up four of the five major labels — BMG (Bertelsmann), EMI Group, Universal Music Group (Vivendi Universal) and Warner Music Group (AOL Time Warner) are reportedly on board. Sony Music Entertainment is holding out because — and try not to choke on the irony — they’re concerned that users will be allowed to put purchased music on CDs. One wonders if it might be better for Sony Music if just stopped selling CDs immediately.

Partnering with Apple is a brilliant move on the part of the labels. Not only do Mac users tend to consume more music than the average Wintel user, but it means that they can avoid supporting Mac OS in their own offerings. And with less than 3% of the PC marketshare, the Apple’s customer base is a good place to experiment with business models.