A memo leaked this week suggests they may have passed Wal-Mart in global music sales, and whether or not that's so, they earn quite a lot from MP3s, even as the music industry screams about declining sales.
There's a lesson there about the danger of over-zealous guarding of copyrights.
The music industry so jealously combats anything that might lead to copyright infringement that they missed the biggest source of music revenue in the world today. When Napster introduced the ability to trade songs, it quickly attracted millions of users, and instead of seeing this as a potential source of revenue, music labels fought to shut it down.
Then they offered half-baked 'rental' schemes through monthly subscriptions, and relatively few people took the bait. It wasn't until Apple offered the right to buy a song for around a dollar that online music stores became viable. Sales rose even further when Apple offered the songs without DRM copyright protection.
DRM protection is a hassle, requiring computer confirmation at best and phone-in verification at worst (as with the maligned DRM scheme for the popular game 'Spore'). Since the whole point of MP3s is convenience - they don't sound better than CD's, but they're easier to use - anything that complicates their use is unwelcome.
So here's a plea to the music industry: please, just let us buy the songs and leave your electronic policemen out of our homes.
Posts this month are on technology and society. We'll return to economics in May.
If you think the music industry is out-of-touch, please see next week's post on Microsoft: No Worse than Before.