Labels, Apple Debate 'Total Music' Model

Apple and major record labels have reportedly stepped up negotiations concerning the idea of bringing the "Total Music" concept to iPod devices.

Apple and major record labels have reportedly stepped up negotiations concerning the idea of bringing the "Total Music" concept to iPod devices.

The negotiations, first reported by the Financial Times and since confirmed by industry sources, were six months ago little more than a "discussion" between Universal Music Group's Doug Morris -- the champion of the Total Music idea -- and Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

According to sources, Apple in the last month reached out to all four major labels to discuss the prospect in more detail, and negotiations now involve the various digital teams at both the labels and Apple.

The Total Music concept involves providing free access to music tied to a specific device in return for a cut of the device price-essentially bundling the cost of about a year's worth of music into the cost of the device at sale.

The first implementation of this strategy came with UMG's "Comes With Music" deal with mobile device manufacturer Nokia. According to sources, the finalization of that deal let to the escalation of negotiations with Apple.

However sources stress a deal is not imminent. Of the many questions to be answered: How much will Apple pay the labels for access to the music? FT reports Nokia will provide about $80 from each device sold to pay for a year's worth of music, while Apple is offering $20. Billboard's sources dismissed those figures as pure speculation.

A more difficult question: Which iPod devices would even include the offer and how? There is a chance that only the iPhone will have access to the Total Music plan. There are also questions over how, or whether existing iPods would have access to the plan, or if it will be something reserved for an entirely new line of iPods. Other questions include the terms of service. How long will users have access to the music downloaded and what happens to the music once that period ends?

But the biggest question is how Apple will be able to implement such a plan in its devices. The record labels almost certainly want to place a limit on either the number of tracks that can be downloaded or the time that users can keep them -- both of which would require new technology from Apple to govern. This is very similar to a subscription model, which to date Apple has dismissed outright.

Sources declined to give any odds on whether these negotiations will go anywhere. Representatives from Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

In addition to Apple, the music industry continues to socialize the Total Music concept with other device manufacturers as well, but sources can't say whether those talks are in any way further along than those with Apple.

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