One of my predictions about the music industry for 2010 was that subscription music would almost hit critical mass, with Apple's iTunes finally pushing it over the edge when they introduce their own subscription service in 2011. This prediction was based on the premise that Apple's purchase of Lala provided the needed infrastructure to create a subscription service that made it easier than building one from the ground up.
While this seems a reasonable supposition, industry pundits are predicting that Apple has something else in mind for the Lala backbone, and they'll spring it on us at the upcoming "big event" scheduled for January 27th.
The thought is now that Apple will do a sort of hybrid service, moving all of a consumer's purchases to the "cloud" (computer storage accessed via the Internet) instead of having a song downloaded on to your personal computing device (be it a computer or a phone or an iPod). In effect, you get the streaming function of a subscription service but it will still be only of all the songs you purchased. So in effect, you won't be downloading songs any more, you'll be uploading them! You can still have them on your desktop if you want, but you probably won't.
Indeed, the main benefit to the consumer is that you save all that room on your drive, especially if you have a large collection, and you no longer have to worry about high-quality versions of the songs eating up your hard drive. But the real benefit belongs to Apple. They still get to charge you 99 cents (or more) to purchase a song, instead of collecting a flat fee per month for access to unlimited songs. And they don't have to renegotiate any of the licenses with the record labels. The consumer gets a taste of what subscription music would be like, but at no cost benefit.
This doesn't sound like much of a deal at all, especially when the Spotify music subscription service is about to launch in the States soon. I still believe that this move is still a precursor to Apple eventually going subscription, but it's just a ploy to keep the status quo a little longer than had they gone directly to subscription.
Because once the consumer gets a taste of music subscription, there will be no turning back.