As of today, an Apple executive has officially announced that all iTunes MP3 music downloads will be terminated by early 2019, about a year from today. While rumors that iTunes and digital music platforms in general were heading in this direction have been floating around for a while now, Apple Music executive and Beats creator Jim Iovine announced today that paid downloads on the iTunes platform will be phased out in an attempt to shift users toward Apple Music’s online streaming – though you’ll always be able to access the MP3s you’ve previously downloaded and paid for.
The implications for a move from iTunes like this are pretty significant. Firstly, it confirms what we have known for a while now: that online streaming is far outstripping paid offline downloads in a way that is changing the business models of music giants like Apple and even Amazon Prime. iTunes is phasing out pretty much all of its iPod products and the shift to end offline downloads is a telling one: the iTunes user’s downloaded library will be translated onto their Apple Music account so they can listen to it along with online streaming. Go figure.
Secondly, it begs the question: who will replace offline MP3 downloads? Without offline downloads, the existence of iTunes as a platform is essentially pointless, and it creates a vacuum for other companies to fill and monopolize on paid downloads the way iTunes has been doing for years. So who will fill those shoes?
Amazon is a good contender: their Prime-bundled streaming service is essentially free, and paid downloads only come with that. They sell literally everything else, why not MP3 downloads, too? Not that many people use Amazon for music, though – even less than Apple Music.
And you’re probably wondering about Spotify’s role in all of this, because lord knows that anyone who listens to a lot of music has a Spotify account. Actually, something like 68 million people have a Spotify account, which is twice as many as Apple Music users and probably more than twice that of Amazon music listeners.
Spotify actually already has a window that includes all of your offline MP3 downloads – if you’ve never noticed before, it’s called “local files”, right under the Library section of the app. But there’s still no way to actually buy those songs on Spotify itself.
Right now there’s no indication that Spotify is going to start selling offline MP3 downloads, but the future is unpredictable and in an age of contradictory, forward-thinking nostalgia inventions like the Huji app, the resurgence of vinyl and CDs, the creation of devices like this one that call back to the iPod shuffle but are still connected to the internet – it’s totally likely that an internet music streaming service would pick up that offline slack.
But still, there are other paid MP3 download services out there that are a little bit smaller, like this one, that might suddenly become more relevant as space is made for them where iTunes has stepped back.
We have to remember, too, that vinyls and CDs are generally sold with an MP3 download – who will be taking care of that? Chances are that lots of people are thinking the same thing we are, and vying to fill that void iTunes is suddenly creating. But who knows how successful it will be – either this is the beginning of smaller companies becoming more relevant, or of Spotify completely taking over the music industry and implanting a chip in all of our brains that we can switch on with the mere thought of “Spotify, play me ‘&burn’ by Billie Eilish”. So either this is totally 1984 as in the book, or totally 1984 as in the year: fluorescent leggings, high ponytails, and 45s all over again.