Today Apple finally announced its long, long anticipated entry into the streaming music space with Apple Music. Apple has spent the last few years as the sleeping giant of streaming music watching Spotify et al seize the innovation mantle and dominate both consumer behaviour and the industry narrative. With all the anticipation expectations were understandably high, too high perhaps. Thus in many respects Apple Music underwhelmed (a 9.99 on demand service; a 24/7 live broadcast radio offering Beats1; a fan / artist engagement platform Artist Connect). But there is also more than first meets the eye, there is a nuanced strategy at play.
Radio Takes Centre Stage
Placing radio centre stage is smart, as that’s how Apple will engage the early follower consumer, who will be Apple’s core target (other than winning back some existing Spotify users). Remember, Apple’s core priority is delivering the best possible music experience to as many of its device owners as possible. A 9.99 subscription service that works for 10% of them is much less interesting than a free radio service that works for 500 million of them.
There’s no little irony that Apple triggered an industry knee jerk reaction against free music only to go and put free music at the core of its streaming play. Of course the crucial difference here is that the free music is not on demand. Apple is using radio, real time broadcast and high profile DJs as a way of bringing context and meaning to internet radio for the Apple mainstream (which of course is slightly different from the broader mainstream). Whether Beats1 is enough on its own for that purpose is another question. Beats2 and 3 to follow shortly?
Taking The First Step Towards A Platform Play?
Apple continues to be ridiculed for its failed Ping! music social network. While it was no killer app it nonetheless represented an attempt to turn iTunes into a music platform. Now that same strategy has been rekindled with the launch of Artist Connect. This is Apple’s attempt to turn itself into an artist-fan engagement platform. Artist-fan engagement is the gold dust of the digital era music business. It’s the scarce, invaluable commodity that music fans crave in a post-scarcity music world. The non-music content is also interesting. Artists can push photos, videos and works in progress to their fans. This combines elements of the D.I.S.C. music format I wrote about here and also the Agile Music concept I wrote about in 2011. There is no reason why music should be a creative full stop in the digital era nor why the static audio file should be the be all and end all. Music fans want more than just the song.
There’s no shortage of competition in this space but while DIY sites of various guises are niche, Apple presents the opportunity to reach more than a hundred million of the world’s most valuable (i.e. highest spending) music fans. Sure some of them now pay for Spotify but they’re still iTunes users also. If Apple’s featureset for artist is strong enough, expect strong uptake, especially from the bigger labels and artists.
Apple Is Making A Play For A Bigger Role Than Ever In Music
The long term implications are intriguing. If Apple establishes itself as one of the key engagement platforms it will change some of the core dynamics of music marketing. All the while strengthening its hand and establishing an indispensable role for itself if it doesn’t make meaningful inroads into the subscription market. Consider it a back up plan. But even more interestingly, if it succeeds at both subscriptions and marketing then it suddenly has more power than it ever did in the hey day of the iTunes Store. Apple could emerge with the power to break and then make an artist. Once it gets there record labels will rightly start casting nervous glances over their shoulders.
Apple’s music “platform” announcement is pretty underwhelming. Putting your service at the same price as the competition with a slightly different feature-set isn’t going to move the needle much here. This feels like a “me-too” addition to their catalog rather than a significant investment in music. The radio station concept is a little interesting, but can it compete against local terrestrial stations that can do live events and local promotions? The Artist Connect concept is a re-tooled Ping – the only way for Apple to pull off a real fan engagement platform is to open it up to everyone, not just Apple customers. The Apple brand would have to take a back seat to the platform, which is difficult to envision based on Apple’s normal consumer-lock behaviors. Also: Apple’s strength is in tech products, not social platforms. If it wants to play in that space, they should be looking to acquire someone who’s doing that well instead of trying to create it themselves…
I guess the platform play angle helps to explain why Apple Music is now also going to be on Android devices.
Scratch my last comment. It looks like there is no free tier (Beats One, Connect) in the Android version of Apple Music.
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schonne – good points. re: opening Connect up I’d argue they don’t need to as this is a platform for getting people to buy stuff (which will be more than just about music eventually). So the quality of the user base is key more than scale. If you want big reach low value you go to Facebook or YouTube
You are right re Beats 2 etc – there must an AC skewing one at some point. Also surprised not to see an EDM Dance Radio Jock wheeled out.
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