Apple is killing iTunes! So said dozens of headlines this weekend, which all lead back to a single sentence in a Bloomberg article claiming that “The company is launching a trio of new apps for the Mac – Music, TV, and Podcasts – to replace iTunes”. It follows up with “Without iTunes, customers can manage their Apple gadgets through the Music app”.
One important thing to be clear about here: we’re talking about iTunes the software: the desktop app that currently handles (clunkily) music, video, podcasts and audiobooks, although apps were removed from it a couple of years ago. So, what Bloomberg is predicting is a continuation of that decentralisation process: dedicated apps for each content category, rather than one to rule (and we can’t overstress this: clunkily) them all.
What Bloomberg *isn’t* predicting is the death of iTunes as a store for music, but that’s something that’s logical to wonder about. On an iOS device, there’s already a separate ‘iTunes Store’ app where you can still buy songs and albums as downloads. It’s unclear what Apple’s plans are for selling music (or not) on the desktop, or indeed on iOS devices, but we’ll soon have an answer: the keynote at Apple’s WWDC event takes place tonight (Monday 3 June), which is when we can expect the new desktop apps AND the next version of iOS to be unveiled.
Of course, there’s a debate to be had about if – or rather when – Apple will retire its music-downloads facility (as opposed to iTunes as a piece of software and as a brand). According to the IFPI, non-streaming digital revenues for recorded-music were $2.3bn in 2018, down from $2.6bn in 2017. That’s completely outstripped by streaming ($8.9bn last year), but those non-streaming digital revenues were still 12% of the global total.
That’s a niche, but not one to be dropped lightly: note that vinyl, which labels are still (justifiably) excited about, generated $691.9m globally last year. Apple has already taken a great deal of effort to migrate its music-download buyers to streaming, with Apple Music, but how and when it hard-shifts the remaining rump of buyers is a subject worth keeping in mind tonight – even if the company doesn’t talk about it explicitly on-stage at WWDC.