For several years, most companies selling music online have had an overriding strategy: follow Apple Computer’s iTunes in as many respects as possible.
That now seems to be changing, in at least one important way. In the past few weeks, several of the biggest digital music providers said they are moving portions or all of their services onto the Web, as opposed to delivering downloads through a separate software application, as Apple does with its iTunes software.
The biggest to take this step so far is America Online, which announced Thursday that it had purchased the Circuit City-owned MusicNow and would adopt its Web-based music service as AOL’s main store. Napster and RealNetworks also have said they would soon offer more access to their music though the Web, however.
This trend toward the Web by music services is part of a broader move by technology companies to offer increasingly powerful computing features on the Web that were once limited to computer desktops and hard drives.
“What we’ve heard from customers is that anytime, anywhere access is extremely important,” said Ed Fish, the AOL senior vice president in charge of music and other subscription services. “We wanted to integrate music with the rest of our programming, and to do that, we didn’t want to require a (separate software) application.”
This trend toward the Web by music services is part of a broader move by technology companies–most notably in Microsoft’s new “Live” campaign–to offer increasingly powerful computing features on the Web that were once limited to computer desktops and hard drives.
The advantage, at least for music companies, is easier access to a broader number of customers. In theory, it’s easier for a relatively unsophisticated consumer to visit a Web site and start listening to music immediately, than it is to download a software application, install it, and go from there.
Web-based services are also available from any computer, and potentially even from mobile devices such as cell phones or portable players with Wi-Fi or other Net access features.
Meanwhile, Apple’s store, which requires all consumers to download the iTunes software, has consistently retained close to 80 percent market share.