An online music store is an online business which sells audio files, usually music, on a per-song and/or subscription basis. The Internet's first free high fidelity online music archive of downloadable songs was the Internet Underground Music Archive. IUMA was started by Rob Lord, Jeff Patterson and Jon Luini from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1993 The realization of the market for these services grew widespread around the time of Napster, a music and file sharing service created by Shawn Fanning that made a major impact on the Internet scene during the year 2000. Some services have tethered downloads, meaning that playing songs requires an active membership.
Sony's service did not do as well as was hoped. Many consumers felt the service was difficult to navigate and use. Sony's pricing of US$3.50 per song track also turned off many early adopters of the service. Furthermore, as MP3 Newswire pointed out in its review of the service, users were actually only renting the tracks for that $3.50. After a certain point the files expired and could not be played again without repurchase. The service quickly failed.
Undaunted, the record industry tried again. Universal Music Group and Sony teamed up with a service called Duet, later renamed pressplay. EMI, AOL/Time Warner and BMG teamed up with MusicNet. Again, both services struggled, hampered by high prices and heavy limitations on how downloaded files could be used once paid for. In the end, consumers chose instead to download music using free file sharing programs, which many felt were more convenient and easier to use.
Non-major label services like eMusic, Cductive and Listen.com (now Rhapsody) sold the music of independent labels and artists to keep in the game, however digital audio downloads began to gain popularity after the launch of the iTunes Store (then called iTunes Music Store) and the creation of portable music and digital audio players. This enabled music fans to take their music with them, wherever they went.
Recently, there has been a boom in "boutique" music stores that cater to specific audiences. For example, masterbeat.com, Beatport and Bleep.com cater to the electronic music community. Magnatune, Amie Street, and Mindawn are other examples of sites that cater to specific audiences. Another trend in music download sites includes Fonogenic which combines the ideas of the selective editorial nature of an MP3 blog with online music stores which provide instant access to buy and download songs.
There's also an increasing amount of new services popping up like WebsiteMusicPlayer.com that enables musicians to sell their music directly to fans without the need for a 3rd party. These type of services usually use e-commerce enabled web_widgets that embed into many types of web pages. This turns each web page into the musician's own online music store.
A more recent development allows the instant downloading of radio-songs, as they are broadcasted, straight to a mobile phone in less than 60 seconds. This technical innovation from Sweden, called DROPme, represents a different channel and consumer behavior relative to the online services.
As of April 2008, the largest online music service is iTunes Store with around 80% of the market. On April 3, 2008 iTunes Store surpassed Wal-Mart as the biggest music retailer in the US, a milestone in the music industry as it the first time in history that an online music retailer exceeds those of physical music formats.