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:
Melvin Gibbs Tommy Manzi
A PDF version of the letter is available here.