Given a choice, most people would rather not pay for music, especially if it’s in digital format. So, when Spotify, the global leader in the music subscription business, reports that 20 million users out of its total installed base of 70 million, pay USD 10 per month in subscription fees, it means Spotify is clearly doing something right. That “something right”, in all probability, is to let its users take their own sweet time to decide when, and more importantly IF, they want to upgrade to premium. Now contrast that with Apple’s limited time only free trial.
Will the limited time offer mean that it’s ‘Game Over’ for Apple Music even before it even started? Not really. Apple Music has managed to outmaneuver incumbents on both the supply and demand sides. In terms of supply, Apple Music has features that can tempt even the most hardcore fans to not only ditch their existing playlists, but even pay for the privilege. Add to this, the shortcomings in the other services such as Spotify - while its library may be growing, mobile users get very limited control over what they want to listen to, Tidal - its service may boast the best sound quality, but the user interface is not very intuitive and user friendly, Rdio - despite its neat interface, it offers very few exclusives even by ‘on-demand music’ service standards, and Pandora - users can access 'stations' based on their favorite artists, songs, and genres, but it doesn’t let you make your own playlists.
While none of these are an issue with Apple Music, it’s not all sugar and sunshine either. On one hand; the app is so full of items, lists, and menus that it is almost too congested. On the other, it misses some of the features that customers look for once their basic music needs are fulfilled – such as social media-based interaction between fans, review and rating feature, popularity ratings etc. Differentiating between the three-line and three-dot menus will also take a little getting used to. Though Siri provides respite in most situations, the voice control feature is a no-show on Mac and PC systems. Apple Music’s streaming bit rate (256 kbps) is also lower than that of most major players (320 kbps), meaning slightly inferior sound quality. In addition, while the human-created playlists do a good job of tuning into your taste, you may have to tell them more than once what you don't like.
However, the game changer working in Apple Music’s favor is demand. While every other service provider has to build their current position from the ground-up (market leader Spotify only recently touched the 75 million user mark), over 800 million iOS users have Apple Music practically thrust in the face. And given our penchant for all things free, most will, at the very least, try the 3 month trial; and 3 months is enough to get anyone addicted. Given that almost 50% of music subscribers (including Spotify users) are iOS users, we can expect some migration to Apple Music. Arguably, these would be premium customers who care about their music experience, and would love the convenience of managing downloaded as well as subscription music from the same platform. Finally, the only feature that music subscribers really care about, and the one thing service providers are struggling to supply, is a rich catalogue. This too has been handed to Apple Music on a silver platter.
However, Apple should remember that having a rich catalogue is far easier than ultimately retaining traffic-pulling. They just need to ask Spotify, who found out the hard way. What kind of relationship will Apple Music have with its artists? Well, that would be the subject of the next blog in this series. Stay tuned to this space.
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