Three months ago, much to the excitement of music and tech journalists worldwide, Apple launched a new streaming service. So convinced that the world would adore their latest creation if only we’d try it, Apple Music was released with a three month free trial. Music lovers had ninety-two days to (hopefully) fall in love with it so much that they’d willingly pay $9.99/£9.99 to use it when the time came. Well, that time is now here. So where does Apple Music stand?
If there was ever a right time to join the billion dollar streaming business, it would be now. Streaming made the American music industry more money than all physical sales (CDs, Vinyls, etc) combined in the first half of 2015.
Pay attention to all the ads, keynote speeches, and celebrity endorsements, and Apple would like you to think that Apple Music is revolutionising the music industry. But in fact it’s the other way around this time: the way we consume music is revolutionising Apple.
Whilst streaming revenues sky-rocket to the point of soon becoming the music industry’s biggest source of income, fewer and fewer people are willing to pay to download tracks – a habit that hits Apple’s iTunes Store hard.
Unlike their other products, Apple is not the first name that springs to mind when it comes to music streaming, Spotify is, and they’ve a huge head start. In eight years, the Swedish start-up has introduced unlimited streaming to 75 million regular users, including almost everyone I know.
Even for Apple, catching up with Spotify will be hard; it would probably be impossible for anyone else. According to Spotify’s founder, Daniel Ek, more people are signing up to Spotify than ever. “Apple has validated the thing that we said 10 years ago,” he told a Canadian newspaper. “We keep setting new records every week”.
On speaking to Spotify users, I found that most just don’t feel compelled to switch to Apple Music. “My Spotify app works just fine” is something I heard a lot. When I asked my course-mate (a Spotify Free user) whether he found the adverts annoying, he just shrugged: “They don’t really bother me. I’d rather not have to pay”.
It’s this issue that is crucial and currently unclear: will people pay to stream music in exchange for a better experience? Spotify’s claims of having around 20 million paying members (a quarter of it’s active users) looks promising, but it’s the only service to have had so much luck. When Jay Z launched Tidal (his Spotify competitor) earlier this year he had high hopes. But it transpired that very few people will pay an eye-watering $20 monthly for streaming. It was a flop.
Whether Apple Music’s fate more closely resembles Spotify or Tidal remains to be seen, but Apple does have some distinct advantages. They have money. They have twelve years worth of their users’ music listening data. And they also hire the best marketers, designers, and software engineers in the world. If they can’t make this work… who can?