NYT: Apple Finds the Future for Online Music Sales

NYT: Apple Finds the Future for Online Music Sales

story by Neil Strauss. Some quotes:

“Apple Computer seems to have the future of online music in its hands for the moment. Its new service, iTunes Music Store, has been the first real success story in the long effort to sell music over the Internet. In just its first month of operation the service, by the company’s estimate, has sold three million songs online, at 99 cents each. This is an impressive figure considering the limited access that music fans now have to the service. Less than 1 percent of the country’s home computers are Macintoshes that are compatible with the iTunes Music Store, and only a fraction of those have a broadband connection to the Internet.”

But there’s a fly in the ointment…

“That complication came this week when the specter of the music industry, which has been publicly supportive of iTunes, began to loom over Apple. The success of iTunes, after all, depends on cooperation from the music business, which controls the songs that iTunes wants in its collection. Apparently trying to stay in the record industry’s good graces, iTunes removed a service it had previously offered customers. Called Rendezvous, the service enabled listeners and their friends to access one another’s music and listen to it — but not download it — from any computers. Hackers, however, had figured out how to download the music as well, creating programs with names like iLeach and iSlurp. So on Tuesday Apple sent out an update for its iTunes software, disabling Rendezvous and limiting music access to a user’s local network at home or at work.

In a statement released yesterday, Apple said Rendezvous had been “used by some in ways that have surprised and disappointed us.”

“We designed it to allow friends and family to easily stream (not copy) their music between computers at home or in a small group setting, and it does this well,” the statement said. “But some people are taking advantage of it to stream music over the Internet to people they do not even know. This was never the intent.” A spokesman for Apple, Chris Bell, said the company made the decision by itself.

The restriction makes sense: hackers are exploiting a loophole, so get rid of the loophole. But in offering music online, there will always be a loophole. Nate Mook, who runs the online news site Betanews, said hackers were already finding a way around this new restriction, writing software that would trick iTunes into thinking that an outside user’s computer was on a customer’s local network. If Apple responds by limiting the functionality of the music it is selling every time that hackers find a way to trade files, it could end up with a system as unsuccessful as the record industry’s own attempts, like Pressplay and Musicnet.”