The Future of Recorded Music

It's just 200,000 compressed songs now, and apparently only accessible to us Mac users (who deserve it, of course), but a Windows application, a bump in bandwidth that allows better quality downloads, and a steadily growing selection, and this could be the medium of the future. Once Microsoft steals the idea, of course.
Between compression and the focus on singles, this is aimed at the tunes market. I can't quite make the mental jump to this business model for classical, jazz, & concerts. Would you want to have to download a whole disc's worth, plus burn time, instead of simply buying the disc? Also the download price will rise for longer material to the point that it will defeat the advantage in downloading.

There is a small but growing chorus from the computer industry to the effect that commercially made discs should disappear. Instead, models like Apple's might divide the pop market from the dvd-type disc market, with dvd's (video or music) packaging a lot of extras at a fixed disc price, while music services cater for quick access.

If Microsoft steals the idea, it will be coded with WMA, not AAC, and that will end the interchangeability. Better let Apple do the Windows app to insure compatability.
This is a major step in the evolution of music distribution. It brings legitimacy to downloading music. Unfortunately, since the songs are in a compressed format there really isn't much in it for the typical audiophile. However, as technology evolves (larger HDs and greater bandwidth), it's possible that uncompressed versions could become available. Regardless of the future, the ability to legally download songs from major label releases is a positive move.
This is a logical next step for the music industry - give the customers even less at a greater cost. We have been paying $15 per cd (too much) now we'll be charged 99 cents per track for inferior quality recordings and the industry can run to the bank with the money they save on pressings, packaging and distribution. The only thing that is hard for me to understand out is why the industry is having trouble figuring out why sales are decreasing.
A few more details: Full albums will apparently go for $9.99, a definite discount over current retail. And Apple does plan to open this to the Windows world by the end of the year. Also, the majors seem ready to put much of their catalog up once the bugs are worked out.

I agree with Flex that this will have greater appeal in the pop market than elsewhere. (And I plan to stick to store-bought CDs for now.) But who knows what impact it might have on jazz, classical, and other genres? For one thing, it will be easier to bundle samplers, which may be the way to introduce new artists.

I think the demand for redbook and better downloads is relatively limited. The only people who hear a difference between MP3s and redbook are the people (like us) who listen for one. So even with more bandwidth, we might not see a lot of uncompressed downloads available.

Still, this is going to affect how music is marketed in ways that we can't really predict yet.
This is not the future of recorded music. Those who download want to download for free, legal or no, and with freedom, i.e. platform independency. You are an Apple user, so you naturally see things in an Apple light. But Apple is a sideshow (to wit, the biggest developer of Apple software is iirc MS, and that only for legal purposes: to mitigate monopolistic appearances). On the operating system front, the really interesting conflict is between proprietary (meaning M$, not Apple) and free operating systems (again, not Apple). With regard to downloaded "software" including music, the conflict is between any number of legal proprietary models fighting for a piece of the pie and the much larger gray area created for example by p2p (peer-to-peer) clients, whose first well-known incarnation was of course Napster, but now appears in many other guises. I trust in the durability of the basic (base?) human instinct to own. And as far as I know, ownership is not a concept meaning "only on 3 computers" or anything of the kind.
There are two issues. The first is the music industry battle against p2p downloads. On that, I agree with Aganon that this and other floating ideas (like 'weed', which is a paid version of a p2p) will have a difficult future. It's hard to defeat "free, unlimited access, and grass roots".

The second issue is the question of fusion. This is the idea supported by the computer and multimedia industries that music distribution becomes networked and electronically distributed, and your pc or nettop receiver stores data to disc, and pipes music all over the house via your home Lan (ethernet, 1394, whatever). If this idea succeeds, Apple's music service might be one of the early successes, platform specificity aside.
Just because I'm an Apple customer doesn't mean I see everything Apple's way. (MS software is the bane of my existence, however.) And I certainly agree that free is cheaper than $.99. I don't think the Apple model itself will stop the theft. It may begin to supplant the purchased disk, however, and as it does it will have an effect both on what is recorded and on how it is marketed.
Regarding MP3 compression, every non-audiophile I know says they clearly hear the difference between 16bit/44KHz digital and the various compression schemes. As audiophiles we shouldn't completely discount the publics desire for good quality sound.
The question isn't whether they hear it--it's whether they care. I've yet to meet anybody who listens to MP3s, but thinks they're inadequate (actual audiophiles excepted, of course).
I don't think the question of quality's importance to non-audiophiles is so black and white. What seems to have been fully determined is that non-audiophiles don't care about quality MORE than price. Free downloads that sound so-so beat better sounding CD's at $12.99, which beat better sounding SACD's that cost $18.99. Very similar to the popularity of so-so tasting pizza that's conveniently and quickly delivered to your door vs. the much better pizza you have to go to the little shop to pick up. If it were as easy and (almost) as cheap, I'd take the better tasting pizza every time. But since it's not, I eat the so-so convenient pizza way more often.
I can scarcely begin to express my contempt for the idea of any essentially profit-driven entity succeeding in becoming a leading repository of any media, be it music, images, text, or whatever, in virtue of information storage in proprietary format.

There is a well-known institution which has been around for well over 2000 years which does function as a repository of (in modern jingoism) "experience". That storage used to be restricted to the textual, and extends in modern times to also include the aural and visual. As everywhere, increasingly under pressure to self-finance, its general spirit remains to serve as a public good. Its existence is even a measure of humanity: its burning/disappearance is always a sure sign of our depravity. It generally gives its users unrestrictive access to wholes, not stray tidbits, and if its service has a subscription fee, it is reasonable. The institution I speak of is a public library.

Anything which needs to trade on its future now to survive today, is much less likely to survive than anything which already has a -- deservedly -- celebrated past. Needless to say, i or eTunes/Images/Books/Films and the like will never be the apple of my eye.

If the issues involved were only banal, about sliding scales of cost/quality, frankly I wouldn't care much more about these things than about any other barterable good. But it's also about control/freedom. The M$ phenomenon is but a minor consumerist appearance of how the slippery slope of the apparently trivial can be much steeper than anyone ever imagined. So how did it all begin? In the beginning there was convenience.
Interesting philosophical point Agonanon, but what example in the history of recorded music can you cite that both emerged and survived on a purely public, non-commercial basis?

DVD-Audio is the format I can think of that attempted to be as universal as the thing permitted, and out of it came an overly complex, confusing, somewhat poorly engineered, and poorly marketed design. What works in the marketplace is something with a singular vision and monetary support, which generally implies a profit motive.

I agree with you about control and freedom, by the way. This is one of the underlying reasons why p2p has so much appeal.
Flex, with Bomarc's grace and goodwill, to clarify:

I was simply trying to say what selection between some of life's apparently banal little options ultimately --and cumulatively (as a consequence of many selecting whatever option)-- can mean.

Selection between these contributes in determining the palette of available options for others in the long run. Given today's pace of change, the "long run" is more often than not well within our lifetime. So these determine choices for us as well - everyone goes for iTunes, iTunes undergo explosive growth, becoming a dominant option. Or: everyone tunes in to Fox, CNN and MTV and that kind of info[tainment] becomes staple, while other kinds of information (options) become waysided. The same applies to IT (instant M$ gratification and convenience vs. free OS's with better build but less convenience) but also to more important phenomena, say in the social-political sphere.

As for your Q'n: the issue is I believe not about the conditions of emergence and growth, where I will wholeheartedly agree as they say, that pecuniam non olet (hence there exists a strong correlation between size of endowment fund -- or equivalent -- and quality of research in educational and other institutions). Rather it is about the conditions of access, use, and distribution, what kinds of conditions -- restrictive or free ("free" as in "free speech" and not as in "free beer") -- apply to these. Imagine if vinyl (or: CD's) could only be played on TT's (or: CDP's) made by XYZ (and associates) but not on any other kind: the horror, the horror. Note: the source (LP, CD etc) can be (even: terribly) expensive, but it would still be "free" in the sense meant.

No one is claiming that good musicians -- or anyone else with anything to offer society -- should not earn a king's ransom. Even if there have been generously bankrolled efforts to associate supporters of some notions of free/freedom with idealogies gone historically awry, these, at best, dissumulate. I daresay even casual observation of the world will reveal that systematic legal, social or other curtailment or restriction of creative or other goods (ranging as implied from music, to information, or even to ideas themselves) is a surefire recipe for mediocrity and worse.
"Rather it is about the conditions of access, use, and distribution, what kinds of conditions -- restrictive or free ("free" as in "free speech" and not as in "free beer") -- apply to these. Imagine if vinyl (or: CD's) could only be played on TT's (or: CDP's) made by XYZ (and associates) but not on any other kind: the horror, the horror"

- Ahha. One week after the vinyl or cd format appears that can only be played on one player, there will appear something called 'licensing', which ensures that everyone for a small fee can produce a similar player which will play that format.

Is it the best format? Not necessarily, but there is a basic point here. There is always a need for standards in order that everyone can make equipment or software or OS's that communicate. Jumping in with your own format is an attempt to preempt the standards process and cash in. Sometimes, not always, it is a good thing. As in my dvd-a example, standards by committee can be problematic. Sony/Philips after all cashed in with the redbook format and did quite well.

I do believe that commercial recording is out of hand in having too much control over artists and music. However the choice of format and OS are insignificant unless they kill the quality of what can be done with music.
I suspect you "got it" all along. It's the thin edge of the wedge. I think it is fair to point to the wedge's existence and possible to do so without being a prescriptivist.

Unfortunately even open standards are not immune to muscle flex. Take the web, for example. IIRC, the various web mark-up specs are hammered out by the W3 via RFC's. Even so, these have to be implemented to mean anything in practice. Netscape, a great product in early iterations, like many others, was, as we all know now, doomed against the proverbial 800lb gorilla implementing -- or not implementing -- standards at will.

Along such lines, it is unlikely -- but also not impossible -- that one day, for all intents and purposes, viewing A'goN web pages, and other activities on the web will be only possible using de facto pay-per-view browsers. That -- and similar ways in which gatekeepers emerge exerting direct or coercive force on players old and new -- would be, candid[e]ly, considered the "best-of-all-possible-worlds" by some. It's not a vision to whose realisation, in whatever form, I will willingly contribute.
I saw this thread a few days ago; and thought that I should mention that anyone who is seriously interested in the future of the music industry should take the time to read the current issue of "Mix" - which is largely published for those in the recording end of the music business.
The current issue - which I received on thursday - has numerous articles devoted to various aspects of the music business - including equipment, studio operations, the major labels, broadcast radio, concert promotions, DVD-A and SACD formats, and lots more. Many of the aspects of the music business - particularly profitablity, recording contracts, independent labels, and more - which are rarely discussed in this forum are given a good airing.
If you want to get a much better "read" on what is happening in the music industry - other than what the audiophile rags mention - get a copy of "Mix" and get a few fresh perspectives.
Avideo - thanks for the reference.
Bomarc - sorry for hijack. I (actually) cheer for Apple inasmuch as it contributes to (real) diversity (not a semblance thereof).
Generally, I will go for the format(s) that public libraries choose, using that as a reasonable index of staying power - sort of like reading news at the end of the year rather than consuming spin minute-by-minute.