A whole wave of announcements at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference today, but for me the most interesting thing is that the nature of music downloading has now changed.
Apple had two music announcements connected to its new iCloud service. The first was that any music you’ve bought through iTunes would now automatically sync across all of your iOS devices. Sensible and similar to what happens if you sync multiple devices manually to iTunes. The second was that for $25 a year a ‘MusicMatcher’ would catalogue all of your songs – however you’ve acquired them – and if detected as one of the 18m songs in iTunes, they would upgrade your copy to 256kbits and then make it available across all of your devices.
The files you get will be DRM-free MP3s, so once your initial year subscription runs out, anything you’ve matched remains in upgraded (and I assume now completely legal) form.
To me, the big shift is that previously there were two types of music – legal and illegal. Legal was music you’ve downloaded and paid for, music you had rented (through Napster/Spotify-esque service) or music you had streamed from a licensed provider. Illegal music was everything else.
Now though, I think there’s been a shift away from the status of the music to the status of the user.
Seemingly there are now four kinds of music user:
Someone who purchases a track directly.
Someone who illegally downloads tracks.
Someone who uses a music rental service – eg Spotify/Napster – where they pay for the privilege of any track on-demand for a monthly fee, available whilst they continue to subscribe.
The new one. A fixer is someone who ‘acquires’ music and then licences themselves (and their collection) through a Cloud subscription.
In effect, the record companies have taken the step of regulating illegal consumption if it’s for personal use. Their gamble is that the majority of illegal users are reluctant thieves and would go legit for a small amount – $25 a year. But lots of $25’s potentially adds up to a significant new revenue stream. It’s an interesting, even enlightened, gamble – but will it pay off?