An online music store
is an online
business which sells audio files, usually
music, on a per-song and/or subscription basis. It may be
differentiated from music
in that the music store offers the actual
, while streaming
services offer partial or full listening without actually owning
the source file. However, music stores generally offer partial
streaming previews, some even with full length.
The Internet's first free high fidelity online music archive of
downloadable songs was the Internet Underground Music
. IUMA was started by Rob Lord, Jeff Patterson
and Jon Luini from the University of
California, Santa Cruz in 1993 The realization of the market for these
services grew widespread around the time of Napster, a music and file
sharing service created by Shawn
Fanning that made a major impact on the Internet scene during
the year 2000.
Some services have tethered
downloads, meaning that playing songs requires an active
In 2000 Sony became the second company to make music from one of
the major labels available for sale on the internet, with '
'. However, it was not the first
online music sharing company, because the first one was shut down
in a lawsuit under the DMCA
. The big record
companies were apprehensive to license their catalogs to outside
companies and refused the late 90's requests of MP3.com
(then called Goodnoise) to sell
digital song downloads. They eventually decided to start their own
services, which they could control directly.
Sony's service did not do as well as was hoped. Many consumers felt
the service was difficult to navigate and use. Sony's pricing of
US$3.50 per song track also turned off many early adopters of the
service. Furthermore, as MP3 Newswire
pointed out in its review of the service, users were actually only
renting the tracks for that $3.50. After a certain point the files
expired and could not be played again without repurchase. The
service quickly failed.
Undaunted, the record industry tried again. Universal Music Group
and Sony teamed up with a service called Duet, later renamed
. EMI, AOL/Time Warner and BMG
teamed up with MusicNet
. Again, both
services struggled, hampered by high prices and heavy limitations
on how downloaded files could be used once paid for. In the end,
consumers chose instead to download music using free file sharing
programs, which many felt were more convenient and easier to
Non-major label services like eMusic
) sold the music of
independent labels and artists to keep in the game, however
downloads began to gain
popularity after the launch of the iTunes
(then called iTunes Music Store) and the creation of
portable music and digital audio
. This enabled music fans to take their music with them,
wherever they went.
Recently, there has been a boom in "boutique" music stores that
cater to specific audiences.
There are also an increasing amount of new services popping up that
enable musicians to sell their music directly to fans without the
need for a 3rd party. These type of services usually use e-commerce
that embed into many types of web pages. This turns
each web page into the musician's own online music store.
A more recent development allows the instant downloading of
radio-songs, as they are broadcasted, straight to a mobile phone in
less than 60 seconds. This technical innovation from Sweden, called
DROPme, represents a different channel and consumer behavior
relative to the online services.
As of April 2008, the largest online music service is iTunes Store
with around 80% of the market.
April 3, 2008 iTunes
Store surpassed Wal-Mart as the
biggest music retailer in the US, a milestone in the music industry
as it is the first time in history that an online music retailer
exceeds those of physical music formats.
Compared to file swapping
Much controversy surrounds this issue, so many or perhaps all of
these points are disputed.
- Follows copyright laws.
- More consistent and higher quality meta-data, because the
entering of the meta-data is more centralized and done by groups
with financial interests.
- Music download companies are more accountable to users than
creators of file-sharing programs
- Centralized repository of music makes it easier to find the
songs you want.
- Notably, Apple Computer CEO Steve
Jobs claimed in his introduction of the iTunes Store that file swappers get paid less
than minimum wage for the work required to download audio.
- Many major online music stores only offer music in one audio
format. Most labels will not allow their music to be sold in the
common MP3 format that music players use. For the most part music
that is sold in MP3 format is not sold at higher bit rate
- Most stores use Digital
Rights Management, which limits use of music on certain
devices. The restrictions vary between different services, and
sometimes even between different songs from the same service.
- Geographical restrictions rule most of the stores at the
request of record labels.
- Many online music stores sell music encoded in a lossy format, compared to an audio
- Users do not have a "hard copy" of purchased music, such as a
CD, for archiving (although music can usually be backed up to a CD
or portable music player).
- Some stores do not provide artwork or liner notes.
- Stores have limited catalogs, because of copyright
- Some stores are not operating
system independent and usually require the use of Microsoft Windows to use their
- Often, illegal downloading methods (most notably torrents)
download faster and often offer more complete versions of albums
(Bonus tracks and the like).
Amazon flows into digital music sales