An Apple a day…
Apple Music may be last onto the streaming pitch, but hold the snark for now because this could be the jolt the industry needs
One of the most interesting features of the whole Apple Music lowdown yesterday came buried in the detail towards the end of the lengthy presentation at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference. It was a long presentation because we had to hear about everything from the streaming service to the artist social media channel Connect to the Beats 1 radio station where you can hear Zane Lowe and only Zane Lowe 24 hours a day seven days a week shouting and roaring and raving about his new favourite bands.
Along with the announcement that the price of the new music service in full would be €9.99 a month ($9.99 and £9.99 for those who use those currencies), there was also the family option. For €14.99 a month, you and up to five other members of your family could get access to the newest kid on the block. Spotify have a similar ploy but it’s limited to one extra person, though €7.50 a month per person is still a saving on their €9.99 a month solo premium price. In Apple’s case, you and five of your mates could end up paying €20 a year each for the service. Yep, we really are all members of the same family.
You could spin it that Apple won on price after all (especially as there’s going to be a three month free trial period to convert existing Spotify fiends to Apple fans and the Beats 1 radio service will remain free to all), though the record labels would rightly beg to differ. Indeed, we can’t wait for the inevitable leak about the deals, negotiations, advances and royalty arrangements between Apple and the record labels over this one.
It was a much different set of circumstances which brought Apple to the table this time around compared to when Steve Jobs realised he needed something to sell his iPods back in the day. Then, as we’ve noted before, the late Apple impressario was the white knight in a black poloneck riding to the aid of the record industry. The iTunes store provided the record industry with a brilliant, engaged, ruthlessly simple way of selling downloads, which made a bunch of cash for an industry who’d lost their way and their reason in the early digital age. That Jobs really did so to flog millions of iPods was a detail which escaped the record industry at first.
This time around, the industry are battle-hardened after dealing with Spotify and every other Spotify-like streaming service around. It took executives a while to cop on that they owned the farm and they could therefore control access to it. Sure, you’ll still have the occasional bolshie technology egotist who might try to strongarm the other side of the table, but they’re easily dealt with. They need the music so they need to play nice.
Does such hardballing also extend to Apple? All the pre-match talk about Apple’s access to a huge customer base and 800 million iTunes accounts was probably designed to show that the balance of power lay at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, California. Indeed, given the might of the Apple marketing machine, if they manage to even get two per cent of those users signed up to Apple Music, thats double the current number paying for Spotify. Turn that two per cent into 10 and we’re talking a serious revolution when it comes to streaming music.
But you need music in the first place in order to do that and that’s why the power lies with the labels initially at least. They’re no longer the green execs who gave it all up to Jobs over a decade ago. They’ve seen how streaming revenues can actually provide a fairly decent return – not enough to make up for the loss of physical sales, of course – especially once they copped that the revenue from download sales was not going to last forever. There are sure to be folks out there thinking in terms of a post-streaming world – just as many of us were thinking about what happens after downloads go five years ago – but right now, streaming is the only game in town and hence why the negotiations with Apple were so important.
That goes for both sides. This is a very big play by Apple. Jobs was never a fan of the streaming model, yet times and seasons change and Apple know it’s a game they have to be in because it’s the growing one at present. Moreover, it’s also a game which is not quite as fully developed as we think. Just as there were people who never heard of Napster or downloading until the iTunes store came along, there are a lot of folks out there who don’t use Spotify or any other streaming service at the moment. Figures shows that there’s also still a sizeable market for CDs. All of these numbers are rife for a streaming play if it’s marketed and sold right.
Which is where Apple come in. They’re past masters at the selling game and, given their investment in this new music play, we can expect some serious shizzle from them in this regard. Perhaps not quite on the iconic level of the old iPod ads and campaigns – their dalliance with U2 last year showed that they’re prone to missteps – but it will be considerable. It will be interesting to watch the Beats 1 radio station roll out too, though I’m a little unsure if Apple’s version of curation will chime with what most of its users want from such a recommendation service. This is not a slight on the excitable New Zealander formerly of BBC Radio One, but rather pointing out the bleeding obvious that the vast majority of people are not all that interested in new music, be it from brand new acts or even returning megastars.
You can assume that there were some worried faces at Spotify, Deezer, Rdio et al this morning after last night’s shindig (we’ll ask Jigga for the Tidal reaction when we see him down the bookies this afternoon), yet such concerns may prove to be unfounded in the long run. While Apple may be at pains to show that streaming is just one of many add-ons in their new music suite, streaming is about to be changed in so many ways by Apple’s entry into the market. This means more customers, more people checking out what Apple Music has to offer, more potential users who may well be swayed by alternative services to pony up. It also re-emphasises the importance of music when it comes to so many new technology plays, something which the industry was incredible lax about in the past and didn’t value as much as they should have done. This time, though, don’t expect the same mistake to be repeated.
We can start making our own minds up when Apple Music goes live on June 30 and we get to see behind the hoardings. It will be fascinating to see what parts of the Apple Music ecosystem will resonate most with users. Will Beats 1 radio be the killer component or could Connect do what no social media service has done since MySpace and work well for all musicians? Moreover, we can also begin to speculate about what comes next. Too soon? Most definitely not. Remember that only five or six years ago, the narrative was all about downloads. Around 2008 and 2009, very few expected streaming to take off so quickly or so widely. Does anyone really expect streaming to be the final iteration in how we choose to consume music? Those looking for the big plays should really be thinking post Apple Music and friends.