Apple confirms meeting with indie record companies

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Apple is preparing to extend its iTunes Music Store beyond just the "big five" record companies now represented. MacCentral confirmed that Apple is hosting a meeting on Thursday with independent record labels to discuss their involvement in the future of the service.

The iTunes Music Store launched in late April. Users in the United States with Mac OS X, iTunes 4 and a credit card in hand can sign up for a free account. For US$0.99 per track (and often less than that per album), customers of the iTunes Music Store can download music from some of today's biggest commercial recording artists, along with a back-catalog of music from many different genres dating back decades.

Encoded at 128Kbps using Dolby's Advanced Audio Codec (AAC) technology, the songs purchased from iTunes Music Store are protected using Apple-developed Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology that enables them to be played on up to three Macs, burned to CD-ROM an unlimited number of times, or stored on an unlimited number of registered iPods.

The iTunes Music Store's DRM system and ease of use has helped the service win the approval of BMG, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal and Warner -- the "big five" music companies in the United States -- by licensing Apple to sell 200,000 of their songs in its iTunes Music Store catalog. The service has been steadily expanding its library with new music every week since then.

So far more than three million songs have been downloaded from the iTunes Music Store, according to Apple, despite its ability to work only with Mac OS X computers equipped with iTunes 4, and its availability only in the United States. Those numbers have many within and outside the music business interested as Apple makes plans to extend the iTunes Music Store to Windows PCs later this year.

Conspicuously absent from the iTunes Music Store are tracks from independent music labels. Concerns about piracy aside, some indie labels have embraced Internet technology as a cost-effective alternative to market and distribute their products compared to the cutthroat retail music business. The iTunes Music Store would seem to be a natural fit.

What's more, Apple CEO Steve Jobs has made no secret of his company's interest in extending its reach beyond just mainstream music. In an interview with Time Online posted just after the music service was announced, Jobs noted that the successful launch of the iTunes Music Store would give Apple "time to focus" in independent music labels, many of which Jobs said had expressed interest in being involved.

"Over three million songs were purchased and downloaded from the iTunes Music Store during its first month," an Apple spokesperson told MacCentral on Wednesday. "With this success, we are now focused on increasing the selection of music on the store, and as part of this effort we are hosting several independent labels at Apple on Thursday, June 5."

This story, "Apple confirms meeting with indie record companies" was originally published by PCWorld.

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