When iTunes does move to streaming music, Leigh believes, it will finally make the technology mainstream. He expects Apple to ultimately launch a service that will use ad-supported streaming music to popularize new releases. For now, record labels resist streaming music because they worry about cannibalizing downloads and CD sales. Eventually, Leigh says, falling album sales will force them to warm to streaming services as a way of getting listeners to try out new bands.
Sinnreich also believes that a Web version of iTunes would have a huge impact on how many people access music: “There’s enough infrastructure in place that, if Apple did it, streaming music would be broadly adopted.” He adds that Apple is well positioned to design an interface that makes it less intimidating for people to upload personal music collections and manage them across a variety of devices.
One challenge is likely to be reaching the licensing deals Apple would need to launch a streaming music service. For recording companies, making deals with smaller music services such as Lala is a different proposition than dealing with Apple. The popularity of iTunes is such that a Web interface could immediately convert hundreds of millions of users.