The long wait is almost over. With Apple expected to unveil iCloud at its Worldwide Developers Conference Monday, the race to dominate music in the cloud can finally get started in earnest.
Full details will be given at Monday's conference, but here's we can say with confidence: Apple has acquired the iCloud.com domain, has obtained licensing deals with all four majors labels (and the major publishers, too) and will not be launching an access-based celestial jukebox that streams every song under the sun (you're safe for now, Spotify).
Sources have also told Billboard details about the revenue split in the deals with the majors: 58% to labels, 12% to publishers and 30% to Apple. It appears that haggling over 2% of revenue delayed a few of the deals getting done earlier. Apple has yet to strike deals with the thousands of independent labels and publishers that will be needed to fill out the service. Sources tell Billboard independent publishers will be offered the same 12% given to larger publishers but began negotiations with independent labels with a 53% offer - three points lower than what the major labels are getting.
iCloud will put Apple in direct competition with Google and Amazon, both of which have released their own cloud-based music storage-and-play services to mild applause. But neither Google nor Amazon launched their services with licenses in hand. As a result, uploading a large collection of music files to either of the services lacks the kind of near-instant gratification people expect in the broadband age. Apple's service should have a scan-and-match feature that will quickly create an online mirror of the music collection on the consumers' hard drive.
If you haven't reached iCloud overload yet, here are some additional rumors, reports and analysis.
-- iCloud is rumored to cost $25 per year. Some reports have suggested that Apple will - at least initially - make iCloud free to people who purchase music at the iTunes Music Store, resulting in no revenue to rights holders other than the royalties from the purchase of the downloads. ( Los Angeles Times, CNET)
-- Apple gave the major labels an advance of $100 million to $150 million to get iCloud off the ground, according to the New York Post. Sources could not confirm the Post's claims to Billboard. In fact, the Post reports that each of the four majors will receive between $25 and $50 million. This implies the largest labels will get $50 million, the smallest will get $25 million and the middle two will get something in the middle. ( New York Post)
-- iCloud is predicted to negatively impact RIM's Blackberry. Shaw Wu analyst Sterne Agee lowered RIM's estimates and target price due to iCloud features' anticipated affects on the company. "While iCloud doesn't replicate all of RIMM's push network, the ability for iCloud to offload data center processing and traffic from carriers is attractive," he wrote in a note to investors. "And it looks like AAPL will likely offer some base service for free." ( Apple Insider)
-- iCloud could create problems for Amazon, too, argues CLSA, the Hong Kong-based brokerage and investment group. The Wall Street Journal has the key excerpt from the CLSA research report titled "Tablet Wars Rage On":
"Given the existence of Apple and Google ecosystems by way of Apple and Android devices, Amazon's business will be under threat of direct attack once Apple and Google drive adoption of their native cloud services (i.e., books, music, video, storage)," CLSA says. "However, Apple and Google's pursuit of establishing adoption of their clouds is more threatening to Amazon than Amazon's pursuit of a tablet. Amazon's cloud business today serves as cloud storage, but looking ahead may be where the book is threatened by Apple and Google." ( Wall Street Journal)
How much of this is true and how much speculation? We'll find out at least some of it for sure on Monday...