In the last decade, Apple made the 99-cent download the standard unit of music sales. Now, Apple is reportedly poised to try a second transformation, enticing music fans to store songs online — "in the cloud" — instead of on a hard drive. If the company's iCloud helps persuade the masses to embrace cloud-based services, that could help reverse more than a decade of sliding music sales. That's a big "if," however, and much depends on the labels' willingness to change.
The shift from physical CDs to digital files has been a mixed blessing for the music industry, opening the door to rampant online piracy as well as promising new business models. The latter include subscription services that, for a flat monthly fee of $5 to $10, give consumers unlimited access to an online library of songs that they can play but cannot keep. Some of the biggest names in technology, including Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL, have tried in vain to popularize music subscriptions, yet new efforts keep emerging.
Apple's forthcoming iCloud, like the online storage services recently launched by Google and Amazon, is a more modest step. According to press reports, iCloud will invite users to move their music collections from their home computers to servers on the Net (along with other valuable data, such as photos and digital videos). The point is to make your entire collection available wherever you go, as long as you have an iPhone or other device that can connect to the iCloud service. There would be no more need to transfer files onto devices; they could be streamed via the Net.