Will Ap­ple Mu­sic play?

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

Ap­ple Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Tim Cook un­veiled the com­pany’s long-an­tic­i­pated mu­sic-on-de­mand ser­vice Mon­day, of­fer­ing this as­sess­ment: “It will change the way you ex­pe­ri­ence mu­sic for­ever.” That’s just the sort of hu­mil­ity we’ve come to ex­pect from Ap­ple. The fact is, con­sumers’ mu­sic habits have been chang­ing for more than a decade, and would have con­tin­ued to do so with no help from Cu­per­tino. Nev­er­the­less, Ap­ple’s be­lated en­try into the mar­ket for sub­scrip­tion mu­sic ser­vices could turn what has long been a niche prod­uct into a main­stream one.

Like the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, the new Ap­ple Mu­sic ser­vice isn’t try­ing to cre­ate a new cat­e­gory of prod­uct. In­stead, it’s en­ter­ing a field al­ready oc­cu­pied by sev­eral other com­pa­nies, none of which has been able to turn a cut­ting-edge prod­uct into a mass-mar­ket must-have. The most popular on-de­mand mu­sic ser­vice is Spo­tify, which re­ported 15 mil­lion pay­ing cus­tomers in 58 coun­tries in Jan­uary. Given the num­ber of mu­sic fans around the world, that’s barely scratch­ing the sur­face.

Part of the chal­lenge for on-de­mand ser­vices is that they’re of­fer­ing a fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent way to pay for mu­sic: They sell ac­cess to a huge li­brary of songs and re­lated pro­gram­ming for a flat monthly fee, rather than sell­ing copies of songs that peo­ple can keep. As a group, how­ever, they’ve spent very lit­tle to mar­ket this idea to the public. If past prac­tice is any guide, Ap­ple will pro­mote Ap­ple Mu­sic with the same vigor that el­e­vated iPods and iTunes to dom­i­nance.

No amount of mar­ket­ing will make a dif­fer­ence if Cook’s pre­de­ces­sor, the late Steve Jobs, was right about con­sumers not want­ing to “rent” mu­sic. But con­sumers are rapidly los­ing in­ter­est in buy­ing mu­sic too. Not only have CD sales plunged but paid down­loads are slip­ping as well. The ques­tion now is whether the typ­i­cal mu­sic fan can be per­suaded to spend more on monthly fees for ac­cess to that huge on­line li­brary.

Un­like Spo­tify and YouTube, Ap­ple won’t be of­fer­ing a free, ad­ver­tis­ing-sup­ported tier to whet cus­tomers’ ap­petite for a paid sub­scrip­tion. That could slow adop­tion of Ap­ple Mu­sic, although it will an­swer com­plaints from the la­bels and artists about free ser­vices that share a much smaller amount of rev­enue. The larger prob­lem for many artists is that the con­tracts they sign en­ti­tle them to only a sliver of the rev­enue their la­bels col­lect from on-de­mand ser­vices. Mean­while, the pop­u­lar­ity-based for­mula for di­vid­ing roy­al­ties fa­vors chart-top­ping acts, leav­ing many small artists worse off as their fans switch from CDs and paid down­loads to streams.

Th­ese prob­lems would be eas­ier to solve if the pie be­ing di­vided were sig­nif­i­cantly big­ger. That is Ap­ple’s goal. But all of its pre­de­ces­sors have been aim­ing for the same tar­get, and it’s proved to be par­tic­u­larly hard to hit.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.