Reading the Smage (“iTunes boosts online music sales”) and The Oz
(“iTunes to the rescue of industry in decline”) yesterday you could be
forgiven for thinking Apple’s iTunes music store was the
newly-appointed saviour of the Australian music industry. It’s not –
and it probably won’t be until Apple can finally see past their iPod.

Reporting on ARIA’s final music sales figures for 2005, the broadsheets
all carried the same tired line that standard CD sales are falling
(which they certainly are) and that consumers are
quickly jumping online to get their music (which, of course, they are).

The ARIA figures, which provide format breakdowns for all music sold in
Australia last year, show the value of CD sales fell almost 10% during
2005, while sales of CD singles (probably the most profitable and
marketable music format for record labels) fell more than 20%. It was
more bad news for an industry that’s still unsure of how to deal with the
digital revolution.

But it was last year’s online music sales figures – included separately for the
first time – that caused some local music hacks to gush about how Apple
has come to the rescue of the Aussie music industry. About 1.5% of
music purchased
in Australia
last year was bought over the internet, and almost one third of it was
bought in the last two months after the opening of Apple’s Australian
iTunes
music store in October. Internationally, an estimated 70% of music purchased over the net already comes from
iTunes.

But very few in Australia seem to have noticed the danger in
something as
ubiquitous and as powerful as iTunes, even if others around
the world
have already echoed big concerns.

In one of the biggest challenges to iTunes’s almost untouchable digital
monopoly, France is looking to
pass legislation which would force Apple to open up its FairPlay
locking software, which currently allows music downloaded from iTunes
to only be played on an iPod MP3 player, to all other hardware makers
– allowing songs to be used on any device, no matter
what the brand.

Apple and the major labels, who have happily licensed their music to
iTunes, claim the current locks placed on songs are designed to ensure
control over music once it’s been downloaded; so that they can’t be
copied and distributed to the world, free of charge.

But if the
fledgling Australian record business wants to convince the public to
legitimately buy music online – still a tough ask considering how slow
our broadband is compared to other Western nations – then
they’re going to have to offer them a truly universal music file format
that’s easily transferred between someone’s iPod, mobile phone, PDA and
personal computer. For a company who has worked so hard to position
itself as the music industry’s best friend, Apple is spending a lot of
time and money defending its profits at the expense of the music.

Peter Fray

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