Frank Ocean’s Blonde, an Apple Music exclusive, sits atop the Pirate Bay’s torrent list shortly after release.
Despite a chorus of protests surrounding the destructive nature of Apple Music exclusives, Apple CEO Tim Cook has vowed to continue the practice. But why?
We’ve talked a great deal about the tremendously destructive impact that streaming exclusives create for the music industry. That includes big punishments against fans actually paying for music, and therefore helping the industry recover.
So is Apple refusing to budge?
On Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook vowed to continue scheduling Apple Music exclusives, a strategy viewed as advantageous for Apple but highly problematic for the music industry and hostile to fans. “Apple Music is the premiere destination for new artists and existing artists to launch their exclusive music,” Cook declared, while disclosing a total of 17 million paying subscribers.
The announcement closely follows two key events: one an exclusive release, the other, a cancelled exclusive. After a pair of high-profile exclusive album releases from Frank Ocean, dimming superstar Britney Spears opted against an Apple Music exclusive push. Part of the problem was piracy, with Ocean’s releases skyrocketing across a myriad of unauthorized platforms thanks to the heavily-constricted Apple Music availability.
But Spears may also have been spooked by reports of Spotify retaliation against Apple Music exclusives, despite outright denials of the practice by Spotify. Somehow, no one believed that Spotify wasn’t directly acting to sabotage Apple Music partner artists.
Meanwhile, Universal Music Group chairman Lucian Grainge has ordered the end of all exclusive releases, given a myriad of destructive side-effects. Beyond heavy piracy and in-fighting among streaming services, exclusives serve to punish the music fan for paying. A Spotify subscriber, for example, can’t access frontline releases despite playing by the rules.
All of which creates a huge disincentive to pay for music and participate in a massive (but early-stage) industry success story.
One question is whether Apple is feeling frustrated with its subscriber progress, with exclusives one way to spend the problem away. Apple Music is currently adding approximately 1 million paying subscribers per month, though Spotify is growing faster. Just recently, Spotify reached 39 million paying subscribers, up 9 million less than 6 months.
Apple, perhaps frustrated with the differential, sees exclusives as a great way to force Spotify abandonment and get people to switch.
One problem is that artists, caught in the middle, are easy targets. Billionaire Apple is now notorious for dangling big, fat checks in front of popular musicians, a move that almost guarantees a sealed deal. Piracy, which frustrates the industry and label, is actually less of a concern for the artist, who’s already been paid and sees illegal channels as a way to ensure broader exposure.
Cook’s comments came as part of a broader iPhone 7 unveiling, with Apple Music a key software companion to the device. Accordingly, Apple is also planning a major overhaul of its ‘bloatware’ iTunes application, one that has been bogged down with an overload of apps, music downloads, radio, TV shows, movies, podcasts, and… Apple Music.
According to industry sources, that overhaul won’t include dropping iTunes music downloads, though that is definitely in the cards with the next 2-3 years. Already, music downloads have been nixed in iTunes applications in countries like South Korea and China, with Apple Music emerging as the clear priority.