Apple Considering ‘Free’ Access to iTunes Library

Apple is talking with the major record labels about a change in the iTunes Store business model that would give customers free access to the store’s complete music library, according to the Financial Times. The catch is that consumers would pay a premium for Apple’s iPod and iPhone devices.

“Rumors of Apple getting into the ‘all you can eat’ music business have been around almost as long as the iPod itself,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at JupiterResearch. “The real challenge that Apple would face is taking this from something that appeals to music aficionados to something the mainstream could appreciate.”

The newspaper cited unnamed music industry sources in reporting that Apple is negotiating with record labels over a deal to offer a monthly music subscription for the iPhone, as well as an unlimited music bundle for both the iPod and iPhone.

The cheapest iPods — the Shuffle model — currently start at $49, and the cheapest iPhones start at $399.

The Financial Times cites executives familiar with the matter whose research shows consumers would pay a premium of up to $100 for unlimited access to music for the lifetime of the device.

If Apple does make a change to its iTunes Store business model, analysts said, the company will take the time to evangelize the market and explain how business models for subscribing or renting can coexist with owning music. That’s something, Gartenberg said, that companies in the digital-music business have not done well.

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