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Google and Facebook have helped fuel the viral redistribution of another false report that Apple was planning to kill off all music downloads in iTunes next year in order to force users into an Apple Music subscription streaming plan. They're wrong, here's why.
On Tuesday, a blogger for Baeble Music made the sensationalist claim that "an Apple executive has officially announced all iTunes MP3 music downloads will be terminated by early 2019, about a year from today."
Which executive? Elissa Fertig, who also writes pieces such as "10 Artists That Charli XCX Should Cover," claimed it was Jimmy Iovine, who did not make such an announcement.
That didn't stop the false story (which mainly served as an advertisement for various competitors of Apple Music) from being widely shared on Facebook and cited by Google as a Top Story. Various other news outlets jumped on board to repeat the story before checking to see if there was any truth to it, including CNET's News.com.au.
"There is hugely popular Apple feature that could soon be killed off by the tech giant," that site claimed, "despite being a move the company has long denied."
Why would Apple stop selling downloads, which are far more profitable than music subscriptions? Author Matthew Dunn didn't seem to know, but he did know that the quote his entire article was based on was absolutely not that Apple was killing a popular feature. Dunn also knew that Apple had previously denied that it had any intent or interest in killing iTunes music downloads.
Writing for Metro UK (which brands itself as "news... but not as you know it") Jasper Hamill stuck to his site's principles as a not-really-news media site by similarly claiming in its headline "Apple will kill iTunes and stop selling music downloads, boss Jimmy Iovine admits," before himself admitting, at the end of his piece, that "Apple denied that it is planning to shut down iTunes Music store and stop selling downloads."
Apple would prefer to sell you digital downloads
The various phony headlines appear to all be based on a BBC interview with Iovine, in which he actually stated that streaming music services like Apple Music are hard to differentiate as "the labels want you to have the same music" as every other streaming service.
Digital downloads are now being outsold by CDs and vinyl
And as for the "hugely popular Apple feature" that the company was supposedly killing next year? In reality, the popularity of downloads has massively declined, to the point where digital downloads "are now being outsold by CDs and vinyl."
However, rather than "announcing" that Apple was planning to shut off music downloads next year, Iovine actually answered a question about whether downloads would ever go away.
"If I'm honest, it's when people stop buying," he said. So rather than nonsensically taking away a popular service, Apple plans to sell downloads as long as anyone will pay for them.
Rather than canceling sales of popular content, Apple has worked to embellish and differentiate its music offerings, including the development of iTunes LP format. Introduced in 2009, iTunes LP was intended to make it easy for artists to build "extra" interactive content to encourage buyers to purchase the entire album.
iTunes LP turned out to not be very effective in stopping the trend toward single song purchases and eventually streaming music subscriptions, the real force that has slashed the popularity of digital downloads. Apple said it would stop accepting new iTunes LP content in April but would continue offering existing titles.
Apple has responded to the streaming threat posed by services such as Spotify by acquiring Beats and starting its own Apple Music streaming service, but that business is less profitable than selling digital downloads.
Spotify actually loses money streaming music, and it's not clear how it will be able to remain in business as it faces demands for higher royalties from artists while it competes against services like Google's YouTube, which pays artists far less than other streaming services.
While Apple Music pays artists nearly twice the amount per stream compared to Spotify, YouTube pays out less than a tenth of what Apple does.
Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who joined Apple to help develop its streaming service, has castigated Google's YouTube practices, saying that the ad-based service "is built on the backs of free, stolen content and that's how they got that big. I think any free-tiered service is not fair. It's making their numbers and getting them a big IPO and it is built on the back of my work and that of my peers."
Despite paying artists more, Apple Music doesn't face the same existential crisis of Spotify because it has lower customer acquisition costs and doesn't need to make money from streaming just to survive as a company. However, Apple still earns much less from streaming than it did back when the majority of users paying for music were buying digital downloads from iTunes.
And as long as consumers are willing to pay for digital downloads, Apple will be happy to sell them.