Apple Formally Asked Not to Kill iTunes Music Downloads

As the guillotine dangles over the head of iTunes music downloads, artists are starting to take urgent action.  That includes the Content Creators Coalition (CCC), a top musician advocacy group.

During its latest earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook didn’t mention iTunes music downloads — not once.

Instead, the Apple chief proclaimed steady progress and booming revenues from a range of other, more modern platforms.  “We had all-time record revenue from the App Store, from Apple Music, from iCloud, from Apple Pay and more, all of which are a powerful illustration of the importance of our huge active installed base of devices and the loyalty and engagement of our customers,” Cook declared (here’s the full transcript).

And when it comes to music, all the emphasis has shifted to Apple Music, which now boasts more than 40 million subscribers.  “Apple Music reached a new record for both revenue and paid subscribers, which have now passed 40 million,” Cook shared.

None of which bodes well for iTunes music downloads, which are strongly rumored to be on the chopping block.  Since 2016, sources to Digital Music News have pointed to a planned phase-out, with the latest estimates pointing to an early 2019 closure.  After that point, Apple will no longer sell iTunes music downloads, but will continue to support previous downloads and existing MP3s.

Even iPod porting will still work (which unsurprisingly has a strong group of entrenched users).

Sounds like the march of technological progress.  But just one problem: paid downloads pay far better than streams, by an unbelievable multiple.  Critics call the comparison apples-to-oranges, though most musicians, labels, and publishers miss the comparatively lucrative format.

Meanwhile, Apple’s PR department has denied that any plans exist to terminate its paid download offering.  But Apple executive Jimmy Iovine has publicly conceded that paid downloads will be nixed once demand falls below a certain threshold, and even iTunes installations in markets like South Korea have skipped the format.

Accordingly, the Content Creators Coalition, a leading musician advocacy group, is formally requesting that Apple preserve music downloads on its iTunes Store.

The Content Creators Coalition advisory board includes Tom Waits, David Byrne, Bette Midler, Patrick Carney (of the Black Keys), Mark Cohn, Cake, DJ Logic, David Lowery, T-Bone Burnett, Grant-Lee Phillips (of Grant Lee Buffalo), and even Mad Men creator Matt Weiner.  Rosanne Cash is an executive at the organization.

Here’s the letter the Content Creator Coalition sent to Apple — and shared by the group with Digital Music News — this morning:

May 2, 2018
Mr. Oliver Schusser
Vice President, Apple Music and International Content
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014-2083
Dear Mr. Schusser:
We have noted that in recent reports, Apple is considering eliminating paid music downloads. While we understand Apple has indicated those reports are not accurate, we are taking this opportunity to communicate how important downloads are to the music community and to express our hope that you will continue offering them to music fans.
Apple has been a partner to artists ever since the iPod and the iTunes download store launched the modern era of digital music, working to innovate new devices and distribution methods while respecting the value of a healthy creative economy as the foundation of these technologies and businesses. In your new role as steward of the company’s music offerings, we hope you will carry on that tradition of mutual cooperation and respect, and we reach out to you in that spirit.
The promise of digital music has always been its ability to give fans more choices and options to find and listen to music and to give music creators more ways to reach and connect with their fans.
As you know, while growing quickly, many subscription and ad supported streaming services still do not produce a living wage for artists. On the other hand, while downloads have slowed, a sale still produces far more income to creators than a stream. Even with the rise of streaming, downloads continue to supply 15% of industry revenues, a vital pillar in the many-legged-stool it takes to make a successful music career and to help artists hoping to cobble together a middle class living from their work.

Cutting off downloads would undermine the ability of hard core fans to collect specific albums, tracks, performance, and versions of their music – leaving them at the mercy of streaming catalogs and the imprecise search functions that still plague many services, especially for listeners focused on genres other than country, pop, and rock. As 9to5Mac’s Ben Lovejoy observed last year, “With classical music, for example, there are almost infinite numbers of permutations of orchestra and performance, and Apple Music will never offer anything more than a tiny subset of these. The same is true for live performances of less well-known artists.”
Downloads also protect fans from the vagaries of technological shifts, rights disputes, and legal changes that can cut them off from valued music if the only source they have available are streaming databases. This won’t be an issue for most listeners, of course, but Apple has always strived to serve not just casual fans, but people whose identity and self-expression is closely tied to the music they love.
Finally, we note the remarkable resurgence of vinyl recordings. No one saw this coming just half a decade ago, but it is a real vital component of the music business today, and especially important to some of our most passionate fans. It is an object lesson in business prudence and caution before making sweeping pronouncements like “downloads are dead.” At a time when many look at the great companies of Silicon Valley and see hubris and indifference to the costs of company decisions, we hope Apple will take a broader view.
Clearly, many consumers are turning back to vinyl in search of high quality, “warmer” sound. With Apple Music’s devoted following and modern broadband speeds, we believe there is an opportunity for Apple to be a leader in providing music fans higher fidelity digital recordings. To that end, we ask that you consider adding high-resolution downloads (48kHz/24 bit and higher) to Apple Music’s offerings. As artists, we want more fans to be able to hear our music as we intended it to be heard when it was recorded.
We are grateful for Apple’s longstanding partnership with music creators and encourage the company to reflect on that partnership and its longstanding mission to offer real and valuable choices to artists and fans and opt to continue to provide a paid download option on its platform.
Congratulations on your new position at Apple. We look forward to working with you.
Content Creators Coalition Executive Board:
Rosanne Cash
Melvin Gibbs
Tommy Manzi
John McCrea
Tift Merritt
Matthew Montfort
Maggie Vail


A PDF version of the letter is available here.




9 Responses

  1. Will Buckley

    I had high hopes for Apple Music, when Jimmy Iovine was brought on board. I thought the company finally had a “music guy” who would understand and support multiple formats, knowing that recorded music sales was the bread and butter for many artists, many, many, many more than experienced meteoric success through streaming.

    I was wrong.

  2. Anonymous

    I don’t think the early 2019 end date is set in stone. Apple is probably looking at the sales of permanent downloads over a period of time, which I suspect is trending downwards. If the trend continues as it has been, then early 2019 is probably the date when it no longer makes sense to continue selling something that very few people are actually buying. Artists will stop receiving permanent download royalties, regardless of whether or not iTunes remains in service.

    If the industry figures out how to reverse that trend, iTunes will most likely continue. The suggestion of higher resolution downloads isn’t a bad one, but it won’t be enough. Most people don’t care about sound quality. Windowing new releases as permanent downloads only for a period of time is a better solution. Don’t worry about the inevitable increased piracy resulting from it. Enough users will buy the downloads legitimately to reverse the trend and keep iTunes going.

    • Not sure

      Slow the trend, maybe. Reverse the trend…

  3. Lest it be overlooked...

    Paul, I’m not sure if its the ads or something else, but the “Secure https” connection on this site is sketch (no malice intended). Perhaps you might want to check into that, especially with all the hoopla about user privacy and such these days (not to mention, but I do, that without a secure connection I am not even sure if the articles I read, for example, are showing the correct information as a result). Thanks.

  4. Jennifer

    As an artist who has made more of my income from downloads than streaming – it would be a massive blow to my income as I’m sure it would to so many other artists, making it even more difficult for independent artists to survive than it already is. I can say from personal experience that people most definitely do still buy downloads! Particularly older generations that don’t do streaming. Please let us know if there is a petition of some sort or anything we can participate in.

  5. Anonymous

    I don’t know anyone under 30 who buys mp3s, or ever did.

    • RCS

      it’s not about age, it’s about being a true music fan. letting AI or some Apple or whoever tell you who they think you should listen to is not being a real music fan. knowing what you want, owning a collection, buying the music is an act of music fans. so if your point is ultimately about the demise of true music fans (based on behavior), then yes I agree with you. there is nothing more apathetic than letting someone or something else tell you what you he/she/it thinks you would like, and the very act of streaming is somewhat apathetic, considering the net result leaves you with nothing tangible.

  6. Alex

    I saw article that said this was a hoax started by a blogger and apple aren’t stopping the download service at all.

  7. Rusty Hodge

    Apple doesn’t call out video/tv/movie downloads or rentals either. But they’re an important part of the iTunes store. The video store isn’t going anywhere, there are shows there that can’t be had anyplace else other than Amazon or Google. (e.g. not on Hulu, not on Netflix).

    It makes no sense for them to stop selling digital music. They’re still operating a digital download store.