iTunes Radio: Streaming Music From iTMS With A "Buy Now" Button

She wore a raspberry beret... the kind you find at second hand store...

Man, I forgot that one.

Oh, donit mind me, Iim just jotting down some of the songs on the radio. I love listening to the radio; all that free music, virtually ad free and interruption free. Itis great to find out all the musicians names and song titles. Can you believe the selection? Thereis 80is pop, 60is folk, classic radio dramas, latin, j-pop, world music, modern and classic jazz, and soundtracks for anime, movies, and even video games!

Of course, Iim talking about Internet radio here...

Way back when

Internet radio is sort of the quiet cousin of the MP3 revolution. You see, while Napster was racking up press time for both "innovation" and "aiding and abetting," Internet radio has managed its own fight for legitimacy. Streaming media was legal thanks to a loophole in the Digital Performance Rights in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 that exempted "Non-interactive, non-downloadable" digital media from licensing fees. The result was a massive explosion of Internet radio stations.

The DCMA closed those loopholes in 1998, and resulted in such unreasonably massive licensing fees imposed by the Librarian of Congress that it threatened to sink all but the biggest corporate webcasters in 2002. Fortunately, the resulting outcry was strong enough to result in a "Small Webcasters Amendment Act," which scaled down the licensing rates for the smaller broadcasters to somewhat more realistic rates. Broadcaster SomaFM, for instance, now has to pay $2000-5000/year depending on the number of listeners they have, and $6000 in back fees, instead of the originally proposed $500 per day applied retroactively to 1998, and due within 60 days!

The result is that Internet Radio is now as legal as the iTunes Music Store, which brings me to the point of my ramblings.

You see, the reason Iim writing the names of these 80s tunes down are that Iim currently using iTunes Radio on an OS 9 Mac at work to listen to Club 977. When I get home, Iill see if these are available on the iTunes Music Store for a quick download. Since itis been so long since I had a good dose of nostalgia, my notepadis pretty full.

Take a cup of iTMS, add in a dash of streaming music

It didnit take long before I started thinking about what a good idea it would be for Apple to integrate Streaming Radio with the Music Store directly. Itis a simple change: just add a "Buy now" button on select radio streams that would let you purchase the song youire listening to from the iTMS. Talk about instant gratification!

Right now, Apple provides some really nice ways to find Music on the iTMS. You can search quickly for the names and titles you know. You can browse songs by category to find selections you wouldnit otherwise have seen. When you choose a song, you see a list of the most popular choices from other people who have bought the album, song, or artist youire looking at. Thereis also a 30 second preview ability, which is great for determining song quality and whether youive found the right version of the track. Then thereis the new releases page, just added, and the exclusive specials. Isnit that good enough?

Passive Entertainment

Radio has a few key advantages to an active search. For one, itis passive entertainment; you donit have to think about the titles, itis spoon-fed to you at random. That makes it a memory trigger: you can hear music you may have otherwise forgot (Hey, "Automatic", by the Pointer Sisters, I havenit heard that in years!). You also get a much wider selection that you might otherwise be exposed to, even in the categories of, say "80is pop" (Hmm, The Other Ones, "Holiday," never heard of that one...does the store even have it?) It also allows the play of full songs, which is sometimes necessary for people to make a choice, as opposed to a 30 second preview ("Hazy Shade of Winter" by the Bangles is pretty good! I thought they only made "Walk like an Egyptian"). Itis even more useful for instrumentals and classical music, which donit have the song name in the chorus to remind you what to search for.

How to do it

There are a few ways Apple could swing this. The easiest would be for the company to do it itself: simply use the iTMS playlist as the content, then have the server tell iTunes what song to link the "Buy Now" button to. This is simple, easy for Apple to implement, and would probably be the equal of a vacuum cleaner in my wallet. Apple could make it completely advertising free and interruption free, and be able to cycle though some massive playlists.

There is a downside to this: itis really advertising, and paid advertising at that. Apple would have to pay the recording industry both for the downloads, as well as the licensing fees as an Internet broadcaster. I do think the increase in iTunes music downloads could offset this, especially if Apple is able to work out a deal with the labels as far as licensing fees. I can definitely see that feature forming a powerful vacuum in my wallet.

Building onto this

From here, this idea could serve a launching point for a lot of different directions. Apple could try and get into broadcasting proper, by creating original programming and content. The company could try and advertise hardware and software products through their own streams, sending that one-click "Buy Now" to the Apple Store online. Perhaps Apple could extend the hand to other broadcasters though their QuickTime Streaming Server, allowing broadcasters to link to the iTMS selections of their songs in exchange for free or cheap bandwidth, or a fraction of the iTMS sales, much like Amazon’s Affiliate program.

My personal favorite would be something I call .Mac Free Radio. Itis simple: Mac iTunes users with a .Mac account could set up a page from which to stream their iTMS purchases. If Apple keeps a cap on the number of listeners, it could sneak the community under the minimum licensing requirements of the music Industry, promote both the iTunes and .Mac, increase iTMS sales. When Windows users start getting the iTMS, they can listen in and buy along, but not participate in a new era of legal "sharing."


This is just a pipe dream for now, but Apple certainly never stands still, and the ability is right there. Itis this ability to leverage its existing assets into new and creative fields that has made Apple a force to be reckoned with, even with a tiny market share. While it might be too early to predict the directions Appleis going to go, it feels good to see what Apple has to offer, and what it can do now to really change the future of online music. The iTunes Music Store is just another huge stride in moving digital music from the Wild West to Silicon Valley. Itis going to be a fun trip seeing just what music can do now.

Until that happens though, I guess Iill just have to see if I can download Stacie Qis "Two of Hearts," and start working my way through the Alternative stations!