Apple loves it when people talk about Apple. Conjecture and buzz about leaks leading up to an Apple event is free press coverage, free promotion, and creates attention just before something as inside-baseball as the WWDC. And the leaks are often vague and loose, allowing pundits — both professional and armchair — to argue and guess and give tons of thought-space to one of the world’s biggest corporations.
That’s what makes the aftermath of the iTunes leak so bizarre. The news wasn’t vague at all — in fact, it was refreshingly specific and unsurprising. Apple would strip iTunes of its video/TV, eBooks (why were those still in there anyway?), and podcast features to create a dedicated Music app. Just like on iOS. Even without the leak, we could see this coming.
Bloomberg was the first to report the leak. Admittedly, the expected clickbait headline reads ‘End of iTunes,’ but the piece’s content is specific:
The company is launching a trio of new apps for the Mac – Music, TV, and Podcasts – to replace iTunes. That matches Apple’s media app strategy on iPhones and iPads.
Twitter panic naturally ensued, with users thinking this meant the deletion of their years-in-progress curated playlists, the ability to rip the occasional CD, and even incompatibility with existing music file collections. Granted, Apple hasn’t exactly made iTunes better with each iteration, but it’s still not the type of company to throw its fans under the bus like that. But it’s fun to rant and worry for a minute.
And then, just as the flames needed fanning, the Los Angeles Times inexplicably publishes a news item with the headline ‘Apple will shut down iTunes, ending the download era, report says.’ The article (but not that headline) is now changed, but the original version made it clear the author was referring to the closing of the iTunes store and thus ‘the download era:’
The iTunes store is a dead service walking.
On Friday afternoon, social media erupted after Bloomberg News reported that Apple was set to announce the end of its iTunes store, which transformed the music business when it was launched in 2003.
Keep in mind, the Bloomberg article referenced doesn’t mention the download store at all.
And then, The Guardian picked up on the story with the headline ‘Apple expected to close iTunes after 18 years:’
It was once heralded as a possible saviour of the music industry in the digital age, famously annoyed fans by forcing a U2 album on them, and its 20,699-word terms and conditions have even inspired a graphic novel, but now Apple is to replace its iTunes download service.
Technically, true. The download store will likely lose its iTunes branding. However, the article (which remains unchanged at the time of this post) goes into great detail about the history of the iTunes store and paid music downloads. Also citing Bloomberg, The Guardian only mentions the actual news — the introduction of the Music app — in one sentence of the whole article.
People started losing their shit. Debates on
We’ve been down this road before. It seems like Digital Music News has an ‘unnamed source’ announcing the shuttering of iTunes once a year. And many people are openly hostile towards iTunes — usually the app, not the store — so it’s a polarizing brand name. When the news arrived, it was emotionally spread far and wide by haters and defenders.
Apple had no comment which fueled things further. But, remember — Apple loves it when people talk about Apple. Why extinguish the fire?
There’s a deeper story about the commodification of our attention. I’m not saying The Guardian and the Los Angeles Times purposefully twisted the news of the leak. My estimation is that in a rush for new content and tweet-able breaking news the original Bloomberg piece became a Rorschach test — quickly interpreted and summarized, the writers spun the leak to their wishes. And those wishes were for something dramatic like the death of paid downloads.
I don’t mean to pick on the writers. This rapid environment is the news culture we live in. It’s instant and impermanent. I can’t even imagine the constant pressure from publishers and editors. There’s nothing sexy in a story about how the only thing Apple is killing in iTunes is the name. On a similar note, I’m surprised there weren’t big stories last week on how Warner Bros. Records was killed off.
We have the power here. Chill on the up-to-the-minute hot takes and think before you retweet. Read — really read — the sources. If you’re writing about these things (and there’s not minute-by-minute pressure from a publisher or editor), follow M.G. Siegler’s lead. And maybe wait until after WWDC to comment on how everything is awful now that Apple is going to turn your MP3 collection into dust.
As for iTunes, Bloomberg was correct. Here’s Pitchfork:
A press release issued after the live announcement said that “users will have access to their entire music library, whether they downloaded the songs, purchased them, or ripped them from a CD.” So again, take a deep breath—contrary to speculation, no one’s iTunes collections were “killed” today. Further questions about keeping personal playlists and play counts intact haven’t been answered as of press time.
The press release [also] said, “For those who like to own their music, the iTunes Music Store is just a click away.” In other words, the iTunes store—which was launched two years after its namesake app and transformed the music industry by allowing the purchase of individual songs—is still very much alive.
And, in fact, iTunes lives on. Pitchfork again:
Outside of the Mac ecosystem, it’s still an iTunes world after all. “Windows users will see no changes in their experience,” an Apple rep confirmed to Pitchfork.
I missed this article from almost a year back, and it’s an extra-interesting read in light of industry events that have taken place since. Beyond that, there’s some valuable food-for-thought to process here.
Unless you’re Amazon and the market takes your lack of interest in making a profit with good-hearted cheer, this is a tough time to be selling goods in the music industry. It’s even harder if those “goods” happen to be music files.
I’d heard it said as recently as a year ago that a DJ-centered market would be protected from the massive shift in consumer expectations driven by streaming, to a world in which every sound ever committed to tape can be listened to for free. This is clearly not the case. After all, it was once claimed that DJs would always have a “need” for vinyl, too.
This is a bitter pill for people with some skin in the game, who look and see a larger market for music than has ever existed before. There are also more DJs now than at any time in history, but selling that market on a product with zero duplication costs and unlimited supply has been a tough racket.
Recorded music was once the foundation of billion dollar corporations – corporations which were largely gutted by sexy tech start-ups that could do everything better… except turn a profit. Now we’re entering the next stage, in which the business of selling “records” (however you want to define that) is simply too low-margin to attract the big, dumb money of a Robert Sillerman. The precise shape of that next stage of the recorded music industry is unclear but one would like to imagine it characterized by artist-centered services like Bandcamp existing in the shadow of the streaming services – a business big enough for you or me or a guy doing this out of his bedroom or a bigroom but too small for the lumbering giants to bother with.
Since 1958, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has awarded platinum and gold certifications based on the quantity of albums sold by an artist. One million sold copies meant a record was platinum; half a million meant gold. Today, the RIAA announced a change in that methodology. Now, it will count on-demand audio and video streaming, along with the traditional album sales, in determining whether a record is platinum or gold.
One stream doesn’t equal one sale, however. Instead, 1,500 on-demand audio or video streams will amount to one album sale. (On-demand streaming refers to the ability to choose what song you’re listening to—services like Spotify and Apple Music, not internet radio sites like Pandora.) The RIAA’s announcement didn’t mention how these 1,500 streams will be tallied up—for example, whether one stream of a 17-song album will count the same as 17 streams of a single taken from the album.
Effective immediately, the RIAA will include on-demand audio and video streams and a track sale equivalent in determining which releases get the coveted album awards, a change that follows a similar tweak in 2013 to include on-demand streams for its Digital Single Award.
“After a comprehensive analysis of a variety of factors,” writes the organization in a statement, “including streaming and download consumption patterns and historical impact on the program – and also consultation with a myriad of industry colleagues the RIAA set the new Album Award formula of 1,500 on-demand audio and/or video song streams = 10 track sales = 1 album sale. Also effective today, RIAA’s Digital Single Award ratio will be updated from 100 on-demand streams = 1 download to 150 on-demand streams = 1 download to reflect streaming’s enormous growth in the two plus years since that ratio was set.”
In a letter to music rights-holders sent last night and obtained by MBW, Beatport told labels that SFX’s ‘going private’ procedure had “trapped certain earned label payments”. Beatport believes the process will be “coming to an end in the next few weeks, at which time all payments will be able to be made”.
The big problem for the small labels we’ve spoken to is one of cash flow: this blocked payment covers three months of income, from April-June, and was due to be paid last Thursday (July 30). With Beatport accounting for 90% of digital income for some dance labels, such a delay in a primary revenue source risks badly damaging their stability.
This is pretty bad news for the labels concerned, and I’m sure Beatport’s actions here are not as villianous as some in the online world are making it out to be. They are a corporation, and this is the kind of thing corporations do. However, any label deriving 90% of its digital income from one source — and one that’s outside of its control — should be prepared in advance for situations such as this. (And — broken record time — that also applies when labels depend on something like Facebook for their entire fan outreach strategy.)
Meanwhile, Beatport is now taking on SoundCloud by permitting anyone to upload and monetize their own original tracks onto the platform. But there’s a big catch for artists: according to the terms and conditions of Beatport, it will only pay a measly 5% of income for plays of these user-generated streams. That’s for all rights, too.
I was hopeful when Beatport was just setting this up … I spoke to someone there about how they were aiming for this service to be seen as a monetizable alternative to SoundCloud. Using embeddable players that might pay some royalty would be a game-changer, as long as including advertising on our content wasn’t the trade-off. This 5% figure is disappointing, but I don’t understand where it’s coming from. This implies there’s another 95% that is going elsewhere. Their agreement speaks of the payment coming from a ‘pro rata share of funds made available for the payment of streams.’ So, there’s a pool of funds for this royalty (as I understand it), and then a set share of that pool designated for each play, but the label / artist only gets 5% of that. Hmm? Anyway, I look forward to someone explaining this further.
According to Music Week sources Beatport has already released those “trapped” royalty payments to major labels, but neglected to do the same for indies. Music Week understands that the UK’s indie trade body AIM hasn’t taken kindly to the treatment and has contacted Beatport demanding to see its members paid within 24 hours.
Whoa, if true, but not surprising. The three majors presently have a hold on the ‘new music economy’ via their consistent threats of litigation and non-participation. The Louis CK model more and more seems like a great idea for indies and self-released musicians who want to avoid getting involved in the mess.