The Download Dilemma

Apple may have been onto something when they started charging $.99 cents on a per song basis. Now you can download your favorite artist?s songs legally without having to worry about the RIAA breathing down your back. With more than 5 million song downloads in eight weeks on the Apple iTunes site, competitors Real Networks and even Microsoft have their sights on similar business models.

It could be argued that Real Networks was closely watching Apple?s new product to see whether it would be a success or not. Shortly after Apple launched their new iTunes music store, Real Networks quickly acquired Listen.com and launched their new Rhapsody product featuring $.79 cent ?burnable? downloads. While Apples product allows you to solely download individual songs, the Rhapsody service from Real Networks gives listeners more music options for a subscription price.

And last out of the gate is the thundering Microsoft which is rumored to be starting their own music subscription service compatible with Windows Media Player. It was announced back in January that Microsoft teamed up with Music Choice Europe to provide Windows Media Player 9 as the preferred player for the Music Choice Europe subscription service. Surely Microsoft is watching to see how all of these business models work before planning their own attack, but will their subscription services and music downloads be in the popular MP3 format or Microsoft?s own WMA format? We will have to wait and see.

While all of these services sound good in theory, how will they affect the consumers purchasing habits? Will music artists be compensated on a per song basis versus a per album basis and where is the motivation to create a 15 song album if you know only a few songs will be radio hits?

As consumers we can now buy our favorite song without having to pay for a complete album which may or may not have multiple bad songs on it. The advantage to downloading music is that you can easily transfer it to your MP3 player or burn it to CD, there is no need to rip the song from the CD in the first place. Unfortunately for PC users, Apple iTunes 4 is not yet currently available, although Apple is supposed to ship a windows version of iTunes later this year..

In the long run I imagine a new industry of online music eventually being contained by the RIAA and all sold at the lowest bidder through the likes of Apple, Microsoft and Real Networks. Full music albums might go up in quality with the hopes of attracting more music downloads, or disappear forever because the artist decides to release one track at a time. Personally, the idea of paying to listen to online music sounds absurd when you have the choice to listen to the regular radio or even satellite radio. I think that Apple has hit the nail on the head by only charging on a per song basis. Listen to the music on the radio, if you like it then download it, there is no reason to pay for what is already provided free of charge.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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