Report insists Apple 'keeping options open' on phasing out iTunes downloads

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV
Despite vocal denials by the company, Apple is still considering phasing out iTunes music downloads in favor of streaming services, a new report claims.




While the company doesn't have a definite timeline at this stage, Apple is allegedly changing the architecture of iTunes in such a way that it could more easily drop downloads if sales saw a precipitous decline, sources told Digital Music News. Paid downloads are already "entering a free fall" in 2016, the publication claimed, citing leaked preliminary statistics.

"It's a 'keeping their options open' thing," one source commented.

The iTunes revamp could appear at next week's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. Apple's immediate goal is reportedly to better harmonize Apple Music and iTunes downloads, and simplify iTunes in general, dealing with long-standing public complaints about the software becoming unwieldy. While initially concentrated on music downloads, the software has gradually added functions related to videos, apps, books, and more, Apple Music being just the latest addition.

The overhaul will involve "making more sense" of iTunes downloads and streaming Apple Music content, the sources explained. One person mentioned that Apple is "definitely" not axing downloads at WWDC, while another added that executives could potentially "double down" on their commitment to downloads during the event to dispel rumors.

In May a Digital Music News report suggested that the end of iTunes downloads was inevitable, and could happen within as little as two years, though one source said the timeline could be three to four years or longer. Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr made a rare public statement in response, insisting that neither timeline was true.

Apple is unlikely to abandon downloads anytime soon, since while they contribute relatively little to the company's bottom line, iTunes is still the leading storefront in this sector and both labels and artists might be upset about losing their revenue share, which is generally much higher from track/album purchases than streaming. Killing downloads might risk licensing deals for Apple Music.

Services like Spotify and Apple Music are, however, increasingly overtaking downloads in popularity. Indeed rumors have indicated that Apple will at least revamp Apple Music's interface at WWDC, simultaneously expanding Beats radio.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 41
    jason98jason98 Posts: 766member
    If it happens Apple will be awash by a shit storm it is going to generate.
    edited June 2016 caliargonautcornchipjony0jahblade
  • Reply 2 of 41
    bobschlobbobschlob Posts: 1,074member
    This company is lost. They have no clue what to do anymore.
    I fought and fought for Cook; Jobs' hand-picked man. But I'm through.
  • Reply 3 of 41
    Ah, would hate to see this happen, especially because I've never understood the appeal of having to pay monthly just to have access to my songs. That being said, I've always been a much bigger fan of just buying music when I hear something I like, and have never once bought more than $10 in music in ONE month, let alone several...
    larz2112larryapotatoleeksoupairbubblecaliargonautcornchipjony0baconstang
  • Reply 4 of 41
    spice-boyspice-boy Posts: 1,445member
    I don't stream music and oppose to having a monthly subscription to listen to music. I want own my music, curate it myself. 
    larz2112ewtheckmanairbubblecalicnocbuiafrodriargonautcornchipjony0diplication
  • Reply 5 of 41
    bobschlob said:
    This company is lost. They have no clue what to do anymore.
    I fought and fought for Cook; Jobs' hand-picked man. But I'm through.
    Think criticizing them over something that you don't even know if they're gonna do is a little premature. Even if this is totally true they're only responding to what consumers are choosing. I don't at all disagree with you but I think it's fair to actually wait and see what they're going to do before saying the most profitable company in the world is "lost".. they clearly don't make THAT many wrong decisions if they make as much money as they do.
    edited June 2016 rich gregorylinkmanbanchocalilollivermacky the mackyjony0baconstang
  • Reply 6 of 41
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,426member
    I wonder how this plays into iTunes match?  Being able to 'download' a higher quality version than your original CD rips has always seemed a great feature but I just haven't had the time nor the inclination yet to re-download my 100 GBs of music.  Maybe this isn't an issue, can a audio tech expert here tell me if I re rip my CDs (boxes of them in attic) today would they be on par with what iTunes match downloads now?
  • Reply 7 of 41
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 17,744member
    bobschlob said:
    This company is lost. They have no clue what to do anymore.
    I fought and fought for Cook; Jobs' hand-picked man. But I'm through.

    I have no idea what any of that even means.  
    lollivermacky the mackyjony0
  • Reply 8 of 41
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,633member
    bobschlob said:
    This company is lost. They have no clue what to do anymore.
    I fought and fought for Cook; Jobs' hand-picked man. But I'm through.
    Based on an anonymous rumor?
    calilollivermacky the mackycornchipjony0
  • Reply 9 of 41
    geekmeegeekmee Posts: 489member
    Vinyl sales eventually withered, why should downloads be any different?
  • Reply 10 of 41
    geekmeegeekmee Posts: 489member
    bobschlob said:
    This company is lost. They have no clue what to do anymore.
    I fought and fought for Cook; Jobs' hand-picked man. But I'm through.
    Bye!
    patchythepiratecalilollivermacky the mackycornchipjony0
  • Reply 11 of 41
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 17,744member
    I doubt this will happen any time soon, but it's probably inevitable.  I can't decide if the business changing is a good thing for music, or a bad thing.  In some ways, I feel like music has already died, at least in the popular sphere.  Music was once something to be collected, experienced, shared and even cherished.  There was something about listening to an album, be it on LP or cassette or CD.  Sometimes you listened to the songs you didn't really like, but that were growing on you.  This happened less when downloads eviscerated physical media, but we still collected music.  We still even bought albums quite a bit.  Music was still experienced.  

    But with streaming?  Music seems to just be something consumable now.  It's everyone streaming the hits of month from whatever genre.  Nothing is owned.  There are no idiosyncrasies in recordings.  Even in the classical genre, orchestras all sound virtually the same now.  Even as a music educator, I find myself saying "well, I want to hear that one song from...." and turning it on.  There's no relationship with music anymore.  No one has a friend over to show him his audio setup, or listen to a new track or album.  No one worries about better quality or reducing noise, or argues about the positives and negative aspects of analog distortion.  

    On the other hand, we can listen to virtually anything at the tap of a finger.  Any genre.  Any song.  From almost any time.  There are digital tools for finding new music, and a band doesn't have to sell 500,000 copies on their first album to make it.  So I don't know what the net effect is going to be.  I do know that the change in the music industry over the past 15 years is stunning, and probably unprecedented for any industry.  It's like there not being cars 15 years from now.  
    tokyojimuargonautdasanman69baconstangthepixeldoc
  • Reply 12 of 41
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,633member
    The only people something like this benefits are the music labels and the content delivery services. They like the idea of a constant, reliable revenue stream from monthly subscriptions. The idea of me buying a single track or album at a one-time price with no guarantee I will buy more on a regular basis sends chills up their spines. Getting me to pay a monthly fee lets them count on me for revenue. Once they get me locked into a subscription model I’m hooked because if I cancel my subscription all my music goes away. The artists and listeners are the ones who get the shaft. Then there’s the issue of the content delivery services deciding to stop their service like several already have. On the other hand if I buy the physical CD, DVD, Blu-ray content and rip it into my audio/video player of choice I have both a hard copy backup and a fallback if my content delivery service goes belly up.
    larryaargonautcornchipbaconstang
  • Reply 13 of 41
    larz2112larz2112 Posts: 291member
    Just to cast my vote, I don't stream music and never will. I prefer to buy music rather than rent it. Also, streaming music services are based on a business model that can only work if content creators, songwriters, and publishers are paid unreasonably low royalties. If you can't afford to pay at least $0.01, a PENNY, in royalties every time a song is streamed, then your business model is inherently flawed and not sustainable.
    cornchipbaconstang
  • Reply 14 of 41
    TurboPGTTurboPGT Posts: 355member
    What the hell is this garbage? Why is it even being entertained? Apple is going to stop selling music to people who are dumb enough to pay $1.29 per song? No. Not happening.

    On a related note, I'd be thrilled if, as an Apple Music subscriber, aka-someone-who-is-paying-for-access-to-the-whole-library-already, Apple would STOP showing me versions of the iTunes Store with prices and buy buttons. I'm not paying $14.99 per month so that I can also buy songs.
    lolliver
  • Reply 15 of 41
    lorin schultzlorin schultz Posts: 2,771member
    I wonder how this plays into iTunes match?  Being able to 'download' a higher quality version than your original CD rips has always seemed a great feature but I just haven't had the time nor the inclination yet to re-download my 100 GBs of music.  Maybe this isn't an issue, can a audio tech expert here tell me if I re rip my CDs (boxes of them in attic) today would they be on par with what iTunes match downloads now?
    A rip of your CD will be sonically indistinguishable from an iTunes purchase, with a couple minor caveats.

    On rare occasions a CD with manufacturing errors or surface damage may result in a rip with an audible pop or tick. It happens infrequently enough that it's worth ripping your CDs and only replacing "bad" tracks (if you even wind up with any) with iTunes purchases.

    The other consideration is that it is technically possible for the label to produce an iTunes track that is ever-so-slightly technically superior to a CD version by not having to reduce the word length to 16 bit (assuming a higher depth master) but the difference is infinitesimal for a couple reasons.

    First, most modern music (with the possible exception of a few audiophile classical titles) is mastered to maximize loudness. This completely eliminates the benefits of a longer digital word, since the only benefit of more bits is wider range between the loudest and quietest values it can store.

    Second, most humans would not be able to detect the difference in range between 16 bit and 24 bit even under ideal circumstances.
    realjustinlongargonaut
  • Reply 16 of 41
    The only thing I bought and downloaded since apple music launched is an experimental 4 hour album not available on any streaming service. I think Apple Music is great, it gives me instant access to almost everything for way less than I used to spend on music every month. If my use case is at all widespread then considering a future without downloads makes sense. 
    lolliver
  • Reply 17 of 41
    linkmanlinkman Posts: 1,019member
    I wonder how this plays into iTunes match?  Being able to 'download' a higher quality version than your original CD rips has always seemed a great feature but I just haven't had the time nor the inclination yet to re-download my 100 GBs of music.  Maybe this isn't an issue, can a audio tech expert here tell me if I re rip my CDs (boxes of them in attic) today would they be on par with what iTunes match downloads now?
    iTunes Match uses 256 kbps AAC format. This is a "lossy" audio format that reduces file size at the expense of some audio quality. But the reduction in quality is minor and most people cannot tell the difference between it and the original CD version. Better quality rips are possible using something like 320 kbps AAC, Apple Lossless, or FLAC.

    But it is possible that the version obtained from iTunes Match is not obtained from the same source material as the CD. It may be a different mastering. In most cases you won't be able to tell the difference between a CD rip and an iTunes Match version (unless the CD was ripped at <160 kbps).
    baconstang
  • Reply 18 of 41
    boltsfan17boltsfan17 Posts: 2,279member
    I wonder how this plays into iTunes match?  Being able to 'download' a higher quality version than your original CD rips has always seemed a great feature but I just haven't had the time nor the inclination yet to re-download my 100 GBs of music.  Maybe this isn't an issue, can a audio tech expert here tell me if I re rip my CDs (boxes of them in attic) today would they be on par with what iTunes match downloads now?
    iTunes quality is nowhere near the quality of a CD rip. CD's are uncompressed sound. If you ripped your CD's now, the quality will be way better than what iTunes Match downloads. 

    EDIT: I wanted to add is if you are going to rip a ton of CD's, DO NOT use iTunes Match. It will ruin your collection. I know a lot of people in the music industry so my iTunes library is mostly filled with studio masters. When I first tried Apple Music, my whole library of studio masters was deleted. I waited a few months to give Apple Music another try and same thing happened on my second Mac. Thankfully I didn't have much music because it was a test. Until Apple Music doesn't require iTunes Match to download music, I wouldn't use it at all. 
    edited June 2016
  • Reply 19 of 41
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 17,744member
    I wonder how this plays into iTunes match?  Being able to 'download' a higher quality version than your original CD rips has always seemed a great feature but I just haven't had the time nor the inclination yet to re-download my 100 GBs of music.  Maybe this isn't an issue, can a audio tech expert here tell me if I re rip my CDs (boxes of them in attic) today would they be on par with what iTunes match downloads now?
    A rip of your CD will be sonically indistinguishable from an iTunes purchase, with a couple minor caveats.

    On rare occasions a CD with manufacturing errors or surface damage may result in a rip with an audible pop or tick. It happens infrequently enough that it's worth ripping your CDs and only replacing "bad" tracks (if you even wind up with any) with iTunes purchases.

    The other consideration is that it is technically possible for the label to produce an iTunes track that is ever-so-slightly technically superior to a CD version by not having to reduce the word length to 16 bit (assuming a higher depth master) but the difference is infinitesimal for a couple reasons.

    First, most modern music (with the possible exception of a few audiophile classical titles) is mastered to maximize loudness. This completely eliminates the benefits of a longer digital word, since the only benefit of more bits is wider range between the loudest and quietest values it can store.

    Second, most humans would not be able to detect the difference in range between 16 bit and 24 bit even under ideal circumstances.
    A rip of a CD should be indistinguishable (for the reasons you've mentioned and more), but in my experience, it's not.  When iTunes was using 128K compression, I found that purchased material sounded somewhat better than ripped content (128 or even 160kpbs AAC).  Keep in mind, this was on mediocre consumer-level equipment, so I'm assuming the difference would be even more noticeable on a mid-fi or hi-fi system.  As to the reasons, it has to be something to do with the encoding software being inferior to what Apple is using.  They are obviously not encoding music with consumer desktop software and a combo drive, after all..  In reality, while he probably won't hear much difference, he may notice a perceived lack of depth or dynamic range.  

    I've had many discussions with people who focus on bit depth, as you are.  What you're saying is true (indistinguishable between 16/24 depth), though I really don't think that's what is affecting most recordings.  Compression is much more of a factor, but so is analog vs. digital in my opinion.  Technically, the human ear should not be able to notice that a CD sampled at 44.1khz is taking "pictures" of the sound wave instead of reproducing it.  Human frequency range tops out around 20khz.  However, I've always questioned whether there is a subconscious effect or intangible effect on timbre with certain kinds of music (notably, classical genre).   To me, there can be a certain antiseptic quality to digital recording, particularly with strings and brass. Many have argued that what some of us perceive as "warmth" is really distortion (particularly with those who use tube amps)but I don't think we'll ever solve that for sure.  All that said, the advantages of digital are overwhelming compared to any minute difference one might hear.  The lack of noise and extended dynamic range alone make the case.  
    realjustinlongargonaut
  • Reply 20 of 41
    These stories are nothing but click generators. Major labels make far more money from sales than they do streaming.
    mattinoz
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