Just How Important Do You Think iTunes Actually Is?….

I’ll let the chart do most of the talking.

The key takeaway  is that two of the oldest models in the digital marketplace (radio and retail) dominate in terms of users.  Persistence certainly pays off for Pandora and Apple.

The iTunes Store is of course more important than Pandora for music industry revenue as its core function is to sell music.  More than eight years after launch the iTunes Store remains by far the biggest success story in digital music sales, which given Apple’s relative lack of interest in innovating iTunes compared to their hardware, says as much about the competition as it does Apple.

There used to be a line of argument that Apple was a unique case because in its base of iPod owners it had converted the majority of the engaged, tech-savvy music aficionados that there were to be had.  That Apple had already grabbed the addressable market for competitor services.   Prior to the launch of the iPhone that base represented 88 million iPods sold.  Since then though Apple has sold 0.4 billion more devices.  The old argument just doesn’t hold water.  Apple is doing something right – or rather many things right – that can turn (relatively) mass market consumers into savvy and engaged consumers.  Something that the competition is patently not managing to do when it comes to digital music.  And as much as it may be that Apple’s largely closed ecosystem is core to converting this behaviour into paid content behaviour, it is clear that the rest of the competitive marketplace needs to start learning how to better compete with Apple if the balance of power is ever to be altered.


Some methodological notes:

  • YouTube is not included because although it is by far the largest online music destination it is not a pure music service.
  • There is a mixture of paid and total users numbers in here.  This chart is intended to give a sense of relative scale of service adoption across a diverse range of user experiences and business models.
  • The list is illustrative, not exhaustive.  So there are major players such as Amazon, MelOn and smaller players like Sony Music Unlimited, rDio, MOG, 7 Digital, MusicLoad, We7 etc who are not on here.
  • The estimate for Apple’s total regular music buyers is based upon an assumption of 40% of the unique owner installed base of iPods, iPhones and iPads.  That is to say that installed base numbers have been created for each device using replacement and new sales assumptions, and that then a unique installed base number was created using assumptions about multiple device ownership etc.  The assumptions were cross referenced and checked in multiple ways including calculating the average number of downloads per buyer, cross referencing against total market level statistics for buyer penetration and digital download sales.  The number is an informed directional estimate not a definitive measure.

Samsung and Meeting The Device Use Orbit Challenge

Two pieces of Samsung related news hit the wires this week:

Samsung might not be one of the big players in digital music but this mixed service portfolio approach indicates a strategic pragmatism that is crucial for anyone trying to compete with Digital Music’s Triple A of Apple, Android and Apple.

But the approach – and 7 Digital’s broader mobile success – is also indicative of an increasingly important strategic imperative for digital music services: namely navigating consumers multiple and interrelated device orbits (see figure).

Ubiquitous connectivity is, to put it mildly, some way off and the stream isn’t going to fully replace the download anytime soon.   And yet, more people are using more devices to listen to music in more places than ever before, and these usage patterns are creating an increasingly complex mesh of usage orbits.  Consumers are becoming more and more adept at developing specific and distinct use cases for their growing number of devices.

Historically, music allowed itself to be pulled across different devices, responding to consumer needs.  This was a perfectly adequate first stage but now music services need to do more than just deliver music to where consumers are.  To prosper in the next stage, music services need to tailor music experiences and value propositions both to specific use cases and be designed for co-existence within multiple, interrelated device orbits.

Coexistence Strategies

Of course some services will hope to simultaneously address every device use orbit (good luck on getting the licenses for that).  But the smart services will design nuanced co-existence strategies that ensure the core use case not only fits alongside a consumer’s wider digital music activity but establishes itself as an indispensible complement to it.  For example getting onto Sonos’ new Play:3 will likely be a more valuable route to the living room than trying to develop integrated hardware from scratch.  Similarly delivering mobile Facebook playlist support and integrating discovery tools like the Hype Machine will prove every bit as important to the consumer experiences as securing the rights to deliver the music itself.

Consumers will continue to have more devices, more content and more music service choices. The challenge that music services and device manufacturers such as Samsung must meet is helping join those digital dots by navigating consumers’ device use orbits.