In a move that could have a future impact on Apple, Microsoft has agreed to pay Universal Music Group a fee for each Zune media player it sells. “We felt that any business that’s built on the bedrock of music we should share in,” said Doug Morris, chief executive of Universal, owned by French media giant Vivendi. “We were very early in working with Steve on the launch of the iPod and he’s been a very good partner and done a lot for the industry,” Morris said in response to questions about Universal’s relationship with Apple. “We have a current contract with him and at the end of that I’m sure we’ll negotiate.” Apple currently only has revenue-share deals with record companies for music sold on the iTunes Store, and does not offer a portion of iPod sales to any company.
Update: The New York Times reports that Universal is expected to receive more than $1 for each $250 Zune sold, and that the deal “comes after weeks of tense talks and averts a standoff that might have crippled Microsoft’s attempt to compete against the iPod.” According to the Times report, Universal apparently threatened to not sell its music through the online Zune media store unless Microsoft paid a royalty for each Zune sold.
“Microsoft ultimately had plenty of incentive to make a deal with Universal,” reports the newspaper. “Microsoft is laying a huge wager on the Zune. If it had not struck a deal, it would have been left in the position of trying to mount a credible challenge to the iPod without Universal, which accounts for a third of new albums sold in the United States. Microsoft also stands to benefit by cultivating a fan-friendly image with the notion that artists—not just corporations—will share in the Zune’s sales.”