iTunes downloads top 2 million

Enthusiasm continues despite some initial drawbacks

Continuing a trend seen since the first week the iTunes Music Store went online, more than 2 million songs have now been bought and downloaded since the debut on April 29 with more than half of those purchased as part of albums, Apple Computer said Wednesday.

The new online service allows users with Apple Macintosh computers to download songs from a library of more than 200,000 songs for $0.99 each. The library features material from all the major record labels, including BMG Entertainment, EMI, Sony, Universal, and Warner Brothers.

Apple's iTunes received high praise from users for designing an attractive and easy-to-use interface for iTunes. Users can browse the library, search for songs by title, artist or album and then preview free clips before buying. Following their purchases, users can burn them to an unlimited number of CDs for personal use or download them to any number of Apple iPod digital music players.

At the same time, analysts have praised the company's business model, which enabled Apple to strike gold in an endeavor that has sent any number of startup companies and media conglomerates packing.

ITunes does not rely on subscription fees, and Apple de-emphasized the thorny issue of digital rights management  technology. Besides allowing users to burn songs onto an unlimited number of CDs for personal use, the music also can be streamed to other Apple Macintosh computers on a home network or over the Internet, Apple said.

Nevertheless, as the service has taken hold, new issues have cropped up for the Cupertino, Calif., company.

Programmers outside of the company have already found ways to harness an iTunes feature called Rendezvous that enables Macintosh users to share downloaded songs with other machines on a LAN or over the Internet.

One Apple enthusiast site, www.spymac.com, is offering a music streaming service enabling registered users to browse and search the collections of other iTunes users, then listen to those songs streamed over the Internet.

While the service is in its early stages and listening quality is largely dependent on the bandwidth of the individual sharing a song, spymac promises future enhancements to the service, according to a statement on the its Web page.

In recent years, the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA) sued online webcasters who streamed music over the Internet for violating copyright laws by allowing listeners to interact with music streams, such as skipping over songs or parts of songs.

Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In this case, media companies are unlikely to take issue with users broadcasting sharing songs from their iTunes libraries, according to Roger Kay, vice president of client computing at IDC.

"It's almost fair use, really," Kay said. "It's as if somebody came over your house and you played it for them."

Besides, the problem of unlicensed streaming pales in comparison to the more widespread swapping of pirated music, which is more damaging to music companies, Kay said.

"It's going to take a whole retreading of the culture to get people to accept the idea that they're going to have to pay for tunes after they've grown used to getting them for free. That's not an easy task," he said. To see that happen, music companies may need to lower their per-song price from the current $0.99 and open far more of their catalogs for download, Kay said.

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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