Apple’s iTunes, the digital music download service that became one of the symbols of the transition to a digital economy, appears to be approaching the end of its road. A Bloomberg report over the weekend said that Apple will use the platform of its annual Worldwide Developers Conference taking place in San Jose, California, this week to announce the impending closure of iTunes.
iTunes, said the report, is set to be replaced by three new apps – one for music, one for podcasts and one for television and film content. The move, if the news turns out to be correct, and it looks to be well-informed, would be part of the tech giant’s revamp as it transitions towards a business model that focuses more on services and content and less on hardware.
When it launched in early 2001, iTunes was heralded as a digital revolution for the music industry and an answer to the kind of widespread piracy that was hurting it. Peer-to-peer file sharing sites like Napster, that allowed users to download pirated music for free in a way that was difficult to stop, were hitting music sales. iTunes offered the first truly legal way for music fans to easily access online and download a huge catalogue of music at a lower price point than buying physical CDs. Being cheaper than buying CDs, compatible across devices such as laptops, mp3 players and mobile phones and easy to use was key to iTunes’ success.
However, while hugely successful for well over a decade, technology has now moved on from the iTunes download model. The rise of streaming services, most notably Spotify, offering access to a huge catalogue of music on-demand and for an affordable monthly subscription means that fewer and fewer listeners are actually buying music – even in digital format. Instead they are simply choosing what to listen to without ever ‘owning’ the singles or albums. Artists are paid royalties based on the number of times their music is played, much like how they earn royalties when their work is broadcast over the radio.
The 2015 launch of Apple Music, a service that works on the same principle as Spotify, can now be seen as demonstrating that the writing was on the wall for iTunes as far back as 4 years ago. It looks as though that will now become official and legacy features of iTunes, such as holding permanent digital copies of music purchased through the service, can be expected to be rolled into Apple Music. Further details around Apple’s new television and film streaming service as well as its podcast app and Arcade, a new video games streaming platform, are also expected this week.