An Apple Executive Says iTunes Music Downloads Will Be Shut Down

Apple's iTunes Music Downloads: Getting Shut Down?
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Departing Apple Music executive Jimmy Iovine is finally saying it out loud.

Back in 2016, we first reported on Apple’s plans to shut down iTunes music downloads.  At the time, sources informed us that the shutdown was tentatively slated to happen ‘within 2-3 years‘.

Apple repeatedly denied those reports, though sources insisted that a timetable was in place.  Then, in December of last year, our sources pointed to a plan to completely terminate iTunes music download sales by early 2019.  That shutdown would involve paid downloads, though existing downloads (including purchased AACs and MP3s imported into iTunes) would still work.

+ December 6, 2017: Apple ‘On Schedule’ to Terminate Music Downloads by 2019

Now, an Apple executive has confirmed that a shutdown is indeed on the way.

The comment came from exiting Apple Music executive Jimmy Iovine during an interview with the BBC.  That interview was conducted earlier this month, and the story was published yesterday.

Here’s what the BBC article states, quoting Iovine:

Apple has previously denied rumours it would “phase out” the iTunes download store next year, but Iovine told the BBC such a move was inevitable.

There is no concrete timescale, but he said: “If I’m honest, it’s when people stop buying.

“It’s very simple.”

Iovine helped to launch Apple Music, a streaming platform that directly competes with the likes of Spotify, Amazon Music, TIDAL, and others.  But Apple Music also directly competes with Apple’s own music downloads, and paid downloads are dropping precipitously as streaming music explodes.

Just recently at SXSW, Apple’s Eddy Cue announced that Apple Music had 38 million paying subscribers.  Currently, the streaming platform is adding nearly 2 million subscribers a month, with more than 6 million trialling the service for free.

That’s a lot of people — who aren’t downloading music anymore, a shift that is clearly displayed in 2017 music industry sales data.  According to both Nielsen Music and BuzzAngle, music downloads suffered double-digit drops last year.  And they’ve been sinking for years.

+ Apple Quietly Drops Music Downloads In South Korea

Meanwhile, Apple has long-since retired its iPod family of devices.  Of course, all of that functionality has shifted to the iPhone, though you’ll still see a few iPods and shuffles in the wild (especially among people working out).  And with good reason: offline music listening is a simple pleasure, one that’s increasingly harder to experience.

All of which might explain why there’s a company solely focused on delivering offline streaming portability.  Yet again, our relentless march towards technological innovation has left us longing for something ‘outdated’.

Would you like an MP3 with that vinyl record, sir?




24 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    This could’ve be avoided or delayed if labels were to simply window their new releases, thus making downloads relevant again. I don’t think they will though. They’ve listened to Spotify’s fear-mongering about the piracy associated with windowed releases for too long.

    • THE DUDE

      Windowing releases encourages pirating. This is why it stopped.

      • Anonymous

        Some will pirate it, and some will purchase it legally. As long as enough people purchase it legally, who cares if it encourages piracy? We should not sacrifice revenue to artists and songwriters in the name of reducing piracy. Let it increase.

  2. Bob


    It’s amusing how you consistently resurface a story that isn’t really a story at all and seem to do a victory lap each time as if you’ve scooped the rest of the media. Jimmy Iovine is only stating the obvious, that Apple will stop selling downloads when people stop buying them. That’s what companies do with all products. When people stop buying the product they stop stocking and selling it.

    • Anon

      After I was reading the article, my initial thought was “Thanks, Captain Obvious”. It looks like you beat me to it.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Seems like a lot of people are interested in this ‘non-story’

      • Anonymous

        And that’s all that matters, right? “Interest” and clicks. Who cares about the truth.

    • Anon

      DJs. You need physical files to spin as the digital interfaces (Serato, etc) aren’t running programs off of WiFi at various venues.

  3. dhenn

    It’s another stupid move by Apple, just like no headphone jack and phasing out ipods, of which I still have two. “Yay, I got an idea, let’s keep making it harder for people to get music the way they want it and make it really hard for the people who create it.” – some idiot at Apple.

    • Anonymous

      As for the removal of the headphone jack, it removed the “analog loophole,” and went full digital. As for phasing out ipods, Apple Music might be a clue.

    • SpaceyTracey

      I agree!!! I will miss being able to purchase some little known, obscure music from iTunes Store. I love having my iPod Classic connected in my car as I cruise down the highway. Yeah, I’m old.

  4. Hack fraud online journalist.

    I didn’t want to just echo what other people have been saying/spread unnecessary hate, but f*uck it. First, Paul, you are everything wrong with online music journalism and really “new media” in general. Every time some baby boomer points at me as the reason why newspapers are dying or Rolling Stone is shutting down, I will simply send them to you. You are a hack, but there is a plus to you and this meaningless article. On the surface, this hack article from a hack nobody only appears as a flashy headline to tug at peoples’ fears. “Are CD’s going extinct?” “Is North Korea targeting the Empire State Building with nukes?” You get my point, I’m talking about lowest-of-the low, tabloid-journalism. That’s the bad news, is that gullible people might be stressed out for a few minutes. The good news is that this article’s existence gives me hope. If you, some rand-o, can write a nothing article and get it circulated (and get paid for it?), I can do anything.

      • Successful Stanford-educated Online Music Blog Founder

        Ok, this is remarkable. I had no idea that I was talking to the founder and ceo of this lovely website. I guess it’s easier to reply to every negative comment if your shitty articles don’t get a lot of views. I guess that’s why writers on Pitchfork can’t reply to all their comments. But, they don’t really spread fake news either.

        • Vail, CO

          Man that’s a really low blow. A lot of people don’t know but Resnikoff was one of the early Pitchfork investors — Conde Nast forced him out though after promise him he’d be managing publisher

        • Anonymous

          Which part of this article is fake? My only minor quibble is with the headline, which would be more accurate if it included the words “…If People Stop Buying Them”. And while download sales are certainly trending in that direction, I wouldn’t consider it to be an inevitability. I imagine there will always be a market for downloads, if for no other reason than for DJs to use, as someone mentioned above. It’s just a question as to whether or not that market will continue to be big enough to justify the costs for Apple to keep iTunes running.

  5. Analog Boy

    This debate over files vs. streaming always cracks me up. Let’s face it, streaming and files are both here to stay for the foreseeable future. Streaming will never replace files because it is technologically impossible to steam without accessing a file. The only question is, do you want to build (i.e. buy, rip or pirate) your own collection of music you love and maintain is on a server (i.e. server, desktop, laptop, phone, etc.), or do you want to pay someone else to do it for you? (i.e. Apple Music, Spotify, Microsoft, Amazon etc.) There are pros and cons to each type of service which we can (and do) debate all day long. But putting popularity and profits aside for a moment … music “consumption” really comes down to two categories: Broadcast or Collection. If you don’t own the music and you want to sample it, you broadcast (i.e. radio, internet radio, podcast, pre-rolls, freemium, subscription etc.) If you hear something you like, you put it in your collection (i.e. drag it to a playlist, buy the file, CD, rip, pirate, vinyl, etc). So the market for files (for profit or underground) will never be displaced until we reach a point where all the music ever recorded can be stored on a single electronic chip. And even then, all music will still be either digital or analog (assuming vinyl is still around by then). The bottom line is, neither streaming nor files are going away any time soon. If Apple discontinues the iTunes service, someone else will fill that void (HD? Piracy?) and hopefully without the inconvenience of their tethering code, compression algorithms, data mining and playlist deletion when you update. Putting profit back into the conversation, Apple has had a nice run with iTunes, but as we all know, that service along with Apple Music and Spotify were never intended to make money anyway. (Another topic we could debate all day).

    • Anonymous

      The debate is really “ownership vs. access”, rather than “streaming vs. files”. There will always be a file, whether it be a server copy, cached copy, limited download, permanent download, whatever. It’s just a question of whether you pay $0.99 for that file and keep it forever without restriction, or do you pay a subscription for access to the file?

      I think the correct answer is a combination of the two. Pay a subscription for the older stuff, pay $0.99 for the newer stuff. In fact, the reason I signed up for Spotify back in 2011 was because their app allowed me to combine music obtained using both types of models onto a single playlist, something Rdio wouldn’t allow me to do at the time. I was fully expecting that there would be numerous songs I’d still have to purchase not covered under the subscription. Which seemed fair. After all, labels, artists and songwriters need some way to make money for their albums, and permanent downloads and CDs for new releases were the best means to do so.

      Except it didn’t work out that way. With very few exceptions (mostly Tool), pretty much everything I wanted to listen to was part of the subscription, whether it was new or not. Permanent downloads quickly began losing their relevance.

      How’s that working out for everyone?

      • Analog Boy

        It’s working out great actually. But I think you got it backwards? Gigs and gigs of older stuff which can be listened to ad free, and then use Freemium or Pre-rolls to sample the new stuff. If it’s something you like, just buy it and add it to your collection. I understand that the younger generation never had a collection to rip into their computers. So it makes sense that they would prefer to pay or a subscription and then “sync” (i.e. download) the tethered files to their phones. The only downside being the inconvenience of big data.

  6. Jane

    Two things need to happen:
    1. Pay songwriters fairly, as many have pointed out.
    2. Make ISP’s ban pirate sites. Would I be correct in saying this hasn’t happened because ISP’s make donations to government?

  7. I ? Paul and his journalistic talent

    Hey paul, me again. I’m a little sad that you didn’t give my second comment a clever quip, but I’m hoping for round three! I have some reading material for you. Enjoy.

    1. 2.

    Paul, I really hope you can forgive me. This is my “favorite” music review “blog.” You are an artist. How much are you making off banner ads? Not enough, that’s for sure. Paul, talk to me! I miss you! I want to hear what you have to say!