Apple's iTunes, the largest music retailer, will boost the amount of time users are allowed to sample a song, sources told CNET on Monday.
On Wednesday, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs takes the stage at the company's annual September media event, he is expected to announce that iTunes users will be allowed at least twice the amount of time to sample a song, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the move. The sources said the sample period could be extended to as much as 90 seconds.
An Apple spokesman said the company doesn't comment on speculation and rumor.
Currently, iTunes offers 30-second snippets of songs, a feature designed to give users a taste of the music to help them decide whether they like it enough to buy. Some users have long complained that half a minute isn't enough time to review a song.
CNET's Apple event predictions
Numerous other digital-music services offer much more time, including Pandora and Google's YouTube. Pandora has become a leader in digital radio, and while a user can't pick and choose which songs they want to listen to, they do get to hear full-length songs free of charge. By contrast, YouTube users do choose which full-length songs they want to hear by picking whatever music video they want, but these songs can't be legally captured or transferred to digital-music players.
While Apple offers the Genius Mix, a song recommendation engine, music consumers know that they can go elsewhere and be given more of a chance to try out a song. This could give YouTube and Pandora an advantage, as iTunes is not the starting point in the song-purchasing process.
According to the sources, Jobs and Apple will focus a large part of Wednesday's gathering on how the company is improving iTunes' music discovery experience.
Don't expect cloudy Wednesday?
For those who are hoping Apple will finally launch the cloud music service that CNET and others have written so much about in recent months, you're likely going to have to keep waiting. Apple still hasn't obtained the licenses the major music labels would require iTunes to acquire to allow users to store their music libraries on the company's servers and then access them from Web-enabled devices, according to multiple music industry sources.
That said, there is a small chance that Apple executives could decide that they don't need new licensing. There are some who believe that neither Apple nor any other music service should have to pay to store and deliver songs that people presumably legally acquired. The legal questions involved have yet to be answered by the courts.
If Apple decides to challenge the labels on this issue, then it would likely mean a major legal confrontation with the top four record labels, music industry sources said. It's hard to figure that Apple would risk a fight like that.
In past talks with the recording companies, Apple has proposed offering cloud services free of charge. It's not something that would generate a lot of money, at least initially.
Earlier this year, CNET reported that Apple wants to offer users digital shelves by which to store digital music, video, and all their media. Executives there have said a server farm being constructed in North Carolina will be completed by the end of the year, and many expect this to be the backbone of the iTunes cloud. Some have taken to calling this facility Apple's Orchard.
But before Apple can make this dream a reality, it has to get the Hollywood studios, book publishers, and record labels on board.
Updated at 7:02 a.m., Tuesday to include more info on length of sample period.