The digital music download industry has turned a corner, with Apple selling its ten millionth song, and news from RealNetworks that its Rhapsody service achieved an average of 500,000 streaming song downloads per day in August.
RealNetworks streamed over 16 million on-demand tunes through its newly acquired Rhapsody service in August – an average of 500,000 songs per day. This service is only available to Windows.
"In the past five months, the service has more than doubled the number of songs streamed to customers each month," the company said. Rhapsody offers a subscription-based service that lets members listen top songs on-demand using their computer.
RealNetworks' vice president of music services, Sean Ryan, said: "The consumer market is finally ready for music services that deliver a better-than-free experience. August's numbers prove what we've been saying for months: legal music services have unquestionably caught the ears of music fans."
Apple launched the world's first consumer-friendly digital music distribution service, iTunes Music Store on April 28. On launch, Apple CEO Steve Jobs called the service: "Downloads done right," and criticized existing services for failing to capture consumer need.
The company sold its ten millionth track – Avril Lavigne's 'Complicated' – through the service on September 3. On this, Jobs said: "Legally selling ten million songs online in just four months is a historic milestone for the music industry, musicians and music lovers everywhere."
Artists and analysts agree that digital music delivery is the likely future for much music sales. Coldplay frontman, Chris Martin, said: "It's clear Apple has delivered a working and successful platform for music fans to discover artists and purchase both albums and single songs instantly with ease. We embrace these efforts enthusiastically and see them as the future of our business."
With so much at stake, competition in all territories is intensifying. Major online media properties are taking position to reap the benefits of the emerging industry. Microsoft teamed-up with Apple Master Peter Gabriel's OD2 service to deliver music downloads to Windows users in Europe. Tiscali and Virgin have also joined up with OD2 to offer the same.
Roxio is still preparing to relaunch its recently acquired Napster brand; RealNetworks plans to upgrade its Rhapsody service, Sony has launched its own. Even controversial Internet entrepreneur Scott Blum has joined the feeding-frenzy with BuyMusic.com.
Many existing services use Microsoft's Windows Media 9 service. This is not currently supported on Macs, but is going through ratification as an Internet standard. Microsoft plans to release Windows Media 9 for Mac OS X this autumn.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), meanwhile, continues its attempts to end music piracy, which emerged to fill the vacuum left by the established music industry's signal failure to exploit new technologies as they emerged in the 1990s.
In its retrospective attempt to control online music distribution, the RIAA has begun legal actions against individual file traders. Most recently, the Association took $2,000 in settlement from the mother of a 12-year old girl for alleged file piracy.
Critics say the RIAA's strategy could become a PR disaster for the music business, and consider it unlikely to revamp CD sales. Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff told Associated Press: "Many of these individuals have fallen out of the habit of buying CDs. They think CDs are too expensive; they only want a couple of tracks on the CD."
This week's Macworld Online Reader Poll is asking how readers download music. Do you use iTunes, peer-to-peer, a service supported by Mac user Peter Gabriel's OD2 company, or do you prefer vinyl?
Vote in the poll in the area to the left of this page, or say what you think about the music business, RIAA, and digital music distribution in Macworld's Forum debate.