At its special event in San Francisco, Calif., Apple on Thursday unveiled a multitude of changes to its popular
iTunes Music Store
— so much so that Apple CEO Steve Jobs called it the “second generation” of the service, which has only been online since late April. Apple also announced major promotions to raise aware of the iTunes Music Store with Pepsi and America Online, as well.
iTunes Music Store started out in late April with about 200,000 music tracks available for purchase. Today Jobs announced that by the end of October, the iTunes Music Store will have more than 400,000 available for purchase. What’s more, Apple has signed distribution agreements with 200 independent labels, answering one early criticism of the service, which debuted with content from artists signed to the five major distributors of commercial music in North America.
Audio book support is a new feature of this updated iTunes Music Store. Thanks to an exclusive multi-year agreement with Audible.com, iTunes Music Store users can now purchase 5,000 different audio book titles, with previews available just like their music counterparts.
Apple has introduced other features to make it easier for people to buy content from the iTunes Music Store for each other. A new gift certificate feature enables users to buy certificates ranging from $10 to $200, which can be redeemed after a notification has been e-mailed out. A new Allowance feature lets parents set spending limits for their kids — an alternative to piracy, according to Apple.
There’s also a Celebrity Playlists feature, that enables users to buy music based on what their favorite musicians are listening to. Celebrity Playlists now featured on the iTunes Music Store include Michelle Branch, Dave Brubeck, Billy Corgan, Counting Crows, Sheryl Crow, Missy Elliott, Ben Folds, Herbie Hancock, Jack Johnson, Kenna, Wynton Marsalis, Moby, Mark Ronson, Seal, Sting and Michael Stipe.
Other new features include new sorting options — users can sort albums alphabetically, by best sellers, or release date. The new iTunes Music Store now also sports album reviews, artist biographies, and “essentials lists” of must-have albums. To top it all off, Apple’s debuting exclusive tracks from more than 60 artists, including exclusive content announced today from artists ranging from Black Eyed Peas (featured in Apple’s new iPod TV ad) to Coldplay, The Eagles, the Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, Sarah McLachlan and more.
Apple today also launched the iTunes Music Store for Windows, which Jobs first promised back in April. Although the service runs on Windows, it provides access to the same store that Mac users get, with all the same features. (Read MacCentral’s coverage for more details).
Apple today released iTunes v4.1. The new version includes the ability to share files between Macs and Windows PCs, download spoken word content from the iTunes Music Store, synchronize On-The-Go playlists and voice notes, burn large playlists over multiple discs without interruption, and drag URLs from the iTunes Music Store to e-mail and other software. iTunes v4.1 is available for download from Apple’s Web site or through the Software Update system preferences pane.
In related news, Apple announced a partnership with America Online to provide its users with one-click access to the iTunes Music Store. The service, which will debut later this quarter, will give more than 25 million AOL users access to the iTunes Music Store, according to the companies. The access will happen through AOL’s own AOL Music site, where users will be able to preview and buy music through the iTunes Music Store as they browse and read music news and reviews. Apple will also offer selections of original AOL content like Sessions@AOL and BroadBAND Rocks! through the iTunes Music Store.
Apple also announced on Thursday a promotion with Pepsi-Cola North America to give away 100 million free songs to Mac and Windows users of the iTunes Music Store. The promotion kicks off on February 1, 2004, when Pepsi will begin distributing 100 million winning codes in the caps of its 20 ounce and 1 liter bottles of Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Sierra Mist soft drinks. The winning codes are redeemable for a free song from the iTunes Music Store — winners go to the store and enter the code found under the cap, and take their pick of any $0.99 song from Apple’s collection.
The iTunes promotion will kick off with a television ad that will be broadcast during the Super Bowl on February 1, 2004, and will run through the end of March. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement that the promotion “will go down in history as igniting the legal download market.”
Updated with information about iTunes v4.1.