April 14, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

Filling up your iPod with Eminem tracks may get a lot easier soon, if Apple gets its way. The Macintosh makers are in talks to leap into the ailing music biz by buying Universal Music Group, a source close to the negotiations tells EW.com. Currently a division of French-owned corporation Vivendi/Universal, UMG is the world’s largest music company, home to artists such as Eminem, U2, Shania Twain, and No Doubt. If Apple gets its hands on all those tunes in what the Los Angeles Times says could be a $6 billion deal, it could be a significant step in the long-promised Internet music revolution — or just another failed attempt at synergy.

Key to Apple’s plans is their in-the-works online music service, which could debut this month and is expected to charge users about 99 cents per track to download music that can be burned onto CD or Firewired to their iPods. ”The application’s great. It was kind of fun,” says Artemis Records president Daniel Glass, who’s seen a demo. A deal with Universal would make the service even more appealing because it would allow Apple to sell UMG artists at lower prices or offer exclusive or early access to highly anticipated albums. Plus, says Glass, ”It’s not cool to own a commercially produced CD — it’s much cooler to have an iPod. So let’s stop fighting it.”

Glass, former head of Universal Music Group, sees Apple using their marketing savvy and hip brand (despite Apple’s relatively tiny user base, the iPod is the leading portable MP3 player) to finally sell paid Net music to fans. ”Apple comes from a rock and roll place, a hip-hop place. The iPod has respect on the street,” Glass says. ”When [paid online music] comes from them, it’s going to be cool.”

But in the wake of the dotcom bust, big dreams of synergistic glory understandably evoke cynicism from some. Lee Black, a digital media analyst for research firm Jupiter Communications, says he wouldn’t expect an Apple-UMG merger to have much effect on consumers at first. ”The [legal] online music space is still pretty small, while [illegal] peer-to-peer services have millions of users,” Black says. He acknowledges that Apple could end up forging a new online path for the music industry, but it could take as much as 10 years. By then, at least, iPods will have REALLY big hard drives.

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