iTunes Michael Jackson Policy: Want the Song? Buy the Album.

michael-jacksonWant to get Michael Jackson’s new single? You will be able to get it on iTunes this month, contrary to earlier reports. But there’s a catch: you’re going to have to buy some of the late singer’s other songs, too.

That’s the pact that Apple (AAPL) and Sony (SNE) have reached this week over the upcoming release of the Jackson’s newest stuff: Anyone who wants to buy a copy of “This Is It,” the song, via iTunes will also have to buy some version of “This Is It,” the album.

Here’s the official word from Apple, following a couple day’s worth of erroneous and confusing reports (one of which I wrote):

We look forward to offering the new Michael Jackson album, as well as a digital-only EP with six previously unreleased tracks, providing fans a great way to get all of the new songs. The iTunes Store will offer the album-only single “This Is It” on both the album and EP starting October 26.

To spell that out: Apple will not be selling the single by itself.

That’s unusual arrangement for Apple, which generally insists that labels sell their music on a track-by-track basis. If the labels had their way, they would consistently force customers to buy an entire album for $10 or more. No word on pricing yet, but it’s a fair bet to assume that even the six-song EP will sell for more than $1.29, Apple’s highest price for an individual song.

Apple does make an occasional exception here and there. For instance, many of the songs on iTunes soundtracks are only available as part of an album. But while “This Is It” does accompany a movie by the same name, it’s not technically a soundtrack, so that’s not what’s going on here.

Sony has sold a staggering amount of Jackson’s stuff since his death last summer, so it’s possible that Apple is simply trying to take advantage of what appears to be insatiable demand. But that doesn’t sound right to me: Even a huge hit on iTunes does very little for Apple’s books.

My guess: Apple maintains a vise-grip on the digital sales, but every now and then it likes to throw the labels a bone. For instance, it used to insist that all of the labels sell all of their songs for 99 cents, but earlier this year Apple changed its policy, and now offers three different price points.

We Are The World! Sony, Michael Jackson’s Estate Working With iTunes, After All.

michael-jacksonCorrection: A Michael Jackson rep says that contrary to the report below, Jackson’s new album will be available on iTunes Oct. 27, though the “rest of the details are still be sorted.” My apologies for the error.

EARLIER: After Michael Jackson died, fans flooded iTunes to snap up his music. But when “This Is It,” the singer’s final work, comes out this month, they’ll have to look somewhere else: Apple’s digital store won’t be selling the album.

So says Digital Music News, citing “confidential information.” The problem, supposedly, is that Sony (SNE) and Jackson’s estate want to sell the entire double album as a set, while Apple insists that all of the music it sells needs to be available as singles.

I’m checking with Sony and Apple to confirm, but the story is a familiar one, because it’s a longstanding dispute between Apple (AAPL) and the music business. The industry, for both financial and artistic reasons, has tried to keep music bundled together, while Apple insists on selling it a la carte.

Apple usually wins these disputes: Even the stubborn iconoclasts in Radiohead eventually bowed to Steve Jobs’s will and turned their precious albums into individual songs.

If there is a clamor for the new Jackson music online, it will reportedly benefit Amazon (AMZN), whose MP3 store does offer album-only releases.

But I’m not sure how loud the clamor will be: As best I can tell, the “new” release contains only a smattering of Michael Jackson you haven’t heard before: Two versions of the title song, plus “a recently discovered spoken word poem.”

The rest? Greatest hits you can already buy, song-by-song, on iTunes.

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Sue or Sign: EMI Trades Lawsuit for Deal With Music Start-Up Grooveshark

fought-the-lawWell look at that: EMI Music Group, which had been working on a licensing deal with music start-up Grooveshark but ended up suing it instead, now has a licensing deal with Grooveshark after all.

This one isn’t a total shock, as EMI and Grooveshark had supposedly been close to a deal prior to the lawsuit. And it wouldn’t be the first time that a label sued a Web company: See Warner Music Group (WMG) and Imeem, as well as Universal Music Group and News Corp.’s (NWS) MySpace, among others.

No details on the deal from EMI or Florida-based Grooveshark, which offers free streaming music, a la MySpace Music, Imeem, Spotify and others. Unlike those services, though, Grooveshark doesn’t appear to have licensing deals with three of the big four labels and plays their music anyway. But with the exception of the EMI suit, it has remained unmolested. Interesting.

For the record, here’s the release (Inside baseball note to Grooveshark guys: Please don’t attach press releases as PDF files. Really cumbersome. Thanks.):

Music streaming service Grooveshark signs deal with EMI Music and EMI Music Publishing
Gainesville, FL–Today, digital music service announced it has entered into agreements with major label EMI Music and EMI Music Publishing that will give Grooveshark users access to content from EMI’s roster of current and legendary catalog artists and EMI Music Publishing’s songwriters.

Grooveshark offers music fans the ability to stream songs for no fee from a vast catalog of music. Fans can enjoy Grooveshark’s music without having to download client software or register. The basic service is free to fans and supported by visual advertising. Fans who opt for a $3 per month premium service can enjoy unlimited ad-free streaming music. The site was recently named the best way to listen to music on the web by Rolling Stone, and just surpassed one million registered users.

“EMI Music and EMI Music Publishing have collaborated with us to create a mutually sustainable deal which represents the future of digital music,” says Grooveshark CEO Sam Tarantino. “We will continue to deliver the best music service on the Internet to our users, and we will expand our capacity to strengthen fan-to-artist connections through our technology.”

“We think services like Grooveshark offer great music discovery options for fans,” said Mark Piibe, EMI Music’s Global Head of Digital Business Development. ”In turn, Grooveshark offers a new revenue stream for our artists and will help us learn more about how we can better connect different types of fans with artists.”

Spotify Promises a TV Service (in Sweden, of Course)

spotify-logoSpotify, the streaming music service Americans love talking about but can’t actually use, has given us even more to chat about: The company now promises to roll out some sort of TV service, some day.

Where? In Sweden, of course, which is where Spotify started, and which acts as a sort of test lab/best case scenario-provider for the service.

The company has announced a two-year deal with Telia, a European telco/Internet service provider, “to work together developing Spotify’s music service for computers, mobile phones and eventually TV as well.” No details about what that TV service might be, but the companies say a mobile offering will be available for Swedes within a “few months”.

That’s interesting, since Spotify already has a mobile offering: Subscribers to its premium service can use the company’s iPhone app, which Apple (AAPL) approved last month. No description of how the new service will differ.

It’s also worth noting that this is Spotify’s second deal with a Swedish ISP. It already has a linkup with Bredbandsbolaget, owned by Telenor, (TELNF) Scandinavian telco, which allows users to bundle their subscription fee with their Internet bill.

It’s also the only territory where the service has a bundling deal, and industry observers think that tie-up has a great deal to do with the company’s much-talked about success there.

Everywhere else, though, Spotify remains a work in progress. It claims 5.5 million users, but as of last month only about 100,000 of them were paying the company a monthly fee, according to people familiar with the service. It is currently trying to break into the US market, but has been mired in discussion with the big music labels — the same ones that have licensed the company in Europe — for months.

For more on the company’s plans, see this interview Kara Swisher conducted with cofounder Daniel Ek last month:

[ See post to watch video ]