I think it’s just nifty that Amazon wants to poach some of iTunes MP3 / download sales, but I think they’re both on the wrong track. Downloading is so… 1999!
I’m more intrigued to see what’s behind the reports that Apple is planning to launch a service akin to Pandora sometime maybe this year. I just hope that whatever they’re building – if anything? – that it’s as much like Spotify or MOG as it is Pandora.
For starters, I’m pretty fucking bored with Pandora. I have a lot of stations in my Pandora account (which I pay for, btw), and it’s frustrating how often I hear the same tunes – even when I’ve “thumbs-downed” them. It seems their playlists are very shallow – it’s the same one or two tracks from each album that comes up in my rotations.
It’s entirely reasonable to think that if Apple is going after streaming licenses, that the resulting service might be more like Spotify or MOG (the two other services I subscribe to) than Pandora – since both Spotify and MOG have a “radio” feature that I sometimes find superior to Pandora. If the licenses that Spotify and MOG have with the labels permit both on demand AND programmed streaming, then it seems reasonable to assume that’s what Apple is building, too. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.
But before such a beast can be unleashed, Apple is going to have to finally give up the pay-per-download ghost and start driving iTunes customers toward a streaming subscription service. They have to let go completely of the old paradigm before the new one can have a chance – and that letting go will finally force the shift.
At first, it may seem like that’s going to have a detrimental impact on the music industry. After all, it was the iTunes store that got much of the music-buying word to switch to downloading instead of buying CDs in the first place. It’s reasonable to assume that once Apple offers streaming, users will eventually stop purchasing altogether. That’s gonna make some people very nervous.
But keep this statistic in mind, which was reported a couple of years ago by the NPD Group: the average music consumer spends about $40 on recorded music, which gets them ownership of a whole three or four CDs a year; if a great number of those consumers can be persuaded instead to spend $10/mo to have access to the entire history of recorded music, then they’ll be spending $120/year instead of $40 – and you’ve just tripled the size of your industry. Somebody ring a bell.
But not too loudly, because there’s still gonna be a lot of adjusting to do. Because once streaming becomes the norm — as downloading has replaced a lot of physical sales — then the business model on the creators side of the equation will be contingent on how much people area actually listening to the content – not how many units they can sell. That is spelled d-i-s-r-u-p-t-i-o-n.
Personally, the reason I hope that Tim Cook and the gang will come up with something is because, for me personally at least, I think it has a hidden potential to be a much more valuable service than either Spotify, MOG, Pandora, or any of the existing services. Why? Because in addition to the vast selection that such a service would offer, it will also contain the much narrower universe of music that I have in fact personally purchased over the years – a digital collection that now includes a lot of the stuff I purchased on vinyl going all the way back to the 1960s.
Thanks to Apple’s iTunes Match, which grew out of Cupertino’s acquisition of Lala.com almost three years ago, Apple now has my entire music collection living in its iCloud. That means that Apple – and really only Apple – has the ability to blend the music I have purchased over the years with new music that might be compatible. I have no idea how they’re going to do that, but when they do, that will be the most awesome streaming music service of all.
So, c’mon Tim Cook, whathefuck are you waiting for??
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click here for previous musings about Apple’s prospects for a streaming music subscription service and the Celestial Jukebox in general.