Steve Jobs, picture courtesy of Apple
It’s barely two years since the iTunes digital music service (DMS) launch and yet this week it passed the 500 million downloads mark. The half a billionth song was a Faith Hill track and was downloaded by a US music fan who finds herself 10 iPods, 10,000 songs and a fistful of front row Coldplay tickets richer. But the real story is only beginning to unfold as Steve Jobs sits atop the digital music revolution with the iTunes DMS dominance in one hand and the iPod dominance in the other, and so unsurprisingly has been elevated to number 6 in The Guardian’s Hot 100 Media list. And, all eyes are on Steve as, simply put, what happens next is in his hands. Apple’s dominance is a triumph for ease of use – as long as you’re either only playing music on your computer or you have an iPod. Everyone is standing outside tent, erm, looking in, shall we say. The labels may control the rights but Jobs has millions of users who have come to expect what iTunes has to offer.

Historically speaking, the labels wanted DRM and set the wholesale price point and Jobs simply funded the DMS with iPod sales, enjoying a halo effect on Apple’s other products and tweaked the AAC format to provide a limited but exclusive DRM. Now, the labels want to open the market up but they have no power. That sits with our friend, the CEO of Apple and Pixar.

One possible next step for Jobs and iTunes, according to the Wall Street Journal, is a video service coupled to the music service with videos on offer for a reported $1.99 a pop. They cite ‘industry sources’ as saying a video iPod could be with us by September. A warm-up for that, or possibly a double act should be the iTunes phone, in conjunction with Motorola and Virgin Mobile, which would bypass the mobile operators for the music downloads and in theory provide a simple extension of the existing iTunes service. A move that I believe would sound the death knell for the under-performing, over-priced and self-serving mobile music services.

Oh, and, just for good measure, Apple announced record profits and, despite press speculation, increased sales of iPods – the main source for those increased profits.

So, Steve Jobs is sitting pretty indeed and while Napster may have the over-performing marketing and press department, Yahoo! the Windows Media-based and cheap subscription service and Microsoft the ever-present and big-spending potential, it’s iTunes/iPod that is the standard – so, what’s next Steve, we’re all ears (literally) …

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