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Ten more years: What the future holds for iTunes Store

Christopher Breen | April 29, 2013
Over the course of its ten-year existence, the iTunes Store has evolved even as it has stood stock-still. Starting out as an online store that sold protected digital audio files, it expanded to include sales (and, in some cases, rentals) of movies, TV shows, apps, and books (both audio and electronic). Where it remains unbudged, though, is in its central mission: Sell, sell, and sell some more. Whether the purpose of its selling is to feed the hardware that Apple makes or to turn a profit on the media itself, the iTunes Store differs very little at its heart from the large "music, movies, books 'n' things" emporiums of old.

As we enjoy more content that appears to be cost-free, our attitudes about its worth change. Why spend $15 on the latest Cool New Artist album when, for two-thirds of that price, you can listen to it and any of 15 million other tracks? Why kick in for the Ultra Mega Cable Package? Just wait a year, and the series you're mildly interested in will show up on Netflix. And if you can switch on Pandora in your car, how likely are you to jack your iPhone into the car's audio port to listen to $75 worth of the week's top five iTunes albums?

And as attitudes change, smart people seek ways to leverage those changes. Currently many of those people are involved with social media companies--Facebook and Twitter--and work with equally smart individuals within streaming-media services. Social media outlets generate the recommendations and the traffic, and media services deliver the content.

Gently down the stream

Streaming services like Spotify--available as an iPad app--pose a challenge for Apple's iTunes Store.

Given these changes, the idea that in ten year's time Apple will maintain a store rooted only in media sales and rentals seems quaint. Purchases won't disappear, as we do like to own some media. But as an exclusive model for media delivery, it's strictly 20th century. So where does the company go from here?

Music subscriptions: Free music-streaming services such as Pandora have more than caught on. Many vendors include Pandora with their smart TVs, the service is available in mobile apps, and (as mentioned) it's now being offered in some new cars. But despite abundant buzz about pay-for subscription music services, there aren't yet enough committed customers to proclaim it The Way Things Are.

Though Spotify and other music subscription services can make deals with social networking services and can market their services in other ways, they still face a significant hurdle: persuading people to click the Subscribe button, enter a credit card number, and pony up month after month.

Apple faces the same kind of barrier, but it has one advantage as a streaming service seeking subscribers: The company already has your credit card information, so in signing up for a streaming plan, you're likely to feel not that you're making a big new commitment but rather that you're adding an optional service, much as some Apple customers pungled up for iTunes Match.

iTunes is a familiar entity, too. You know how iTunes' interface works, are familiar with the depth of the iTunes catalog, appreciate the quality of its audio files, and understand how to play iTunes music with your computer and mobile devices. Enhancing your current iTunes service (which will continue to sell media) with a streaming plan wouldn't change that experience.


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