Apple has reportedly begun talks with senior music industry figures regarding the launch of a fully-fledged streaming music service.
Billboard reports Apple has opened "exploratory talks" on the subject as part of a general rethink of the iTunes music strategy.
Other ideas, such as exclusive, advanced sales windows for albums on iTunes and an iTunes Store Android app, are also said to be up for debate.
Apple launched iTunes Radio in the US last year, a rival for streaming radio servcies such as Last.fm and Pandora, which curate playlists based on your music tastes rather than allowing you to pick and choose from a library of millions of tracks.
Now it seems Apple will offer a complete streaming music subscription service to rival the likes of Rdio, Spotify and Qobuz.
The streaming music industry, led by Spotify, has seen huge growth over the last 12 months while the downloads market, and specifically the iTunes Store, has stagnated.
In the UK, streaming music saw a 33.7% rise in revenue in 2013, with some 7.4 billion songs streamed, double the figure from the previous year. Digital sales were up over 3% last year, but that was considerably lower than the 15% increase in 2012.
In America, year-on-year digital sales are seeing double-digit declines, a trend that would have a serious impact on the iTunes Store, which represents 40% of recorded music revenues in the US.
Clearly, an Apple streaming music service would have a huge impact on streaming music services and the music industry as a whole.
As of June 2013, the iTunes Store had a reported 575 million active users and was said to be growing at a rate of 500,000 users/day.
This could mean upwards of 700m users today, and a huge potential audience for a streaming music service. Spotify reported 24 million active users at the end of 2013.
Google already offers Play Music All Access, a streaming music and cloud storage service that sits within the Play Store, Google's iTunes equivalent.
Meanwhile, Qobuz, a French company, has recently launched in the UK offering CD-quality streaming, the first streaming music service to do so.
As far back as 2012 it was rumoured that Apple could offer higher-quality music downloads, could the company use sound quality as a USP for an iTunes streaming service?
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by Joe Cox