Apple Tells Labels, Unilaterally, That It's Increasing Song Previews To 90 Seconds

from the who's-going-to-sue-first? dept

A couple months ago, rumors made the rounds that Apple was going to double the length of song previews in iTunes from 30 to 60 seconds. An expected announcement did not appear, however, apparently because the music publishers (who in the past have already claimed — without success — that Apple should pay performance fees on those 30 second previews) felt Apple first needed to get permission from them, as well as the labels. So it’s interesting to see that, at least with the record labels, Apple appears to be taking an aggressive approach, sending out letters simply telling labels that their deals have changed and song previews will now be 90 seconds:

It’ll be interesting to see if Apple did the same thing with publishers… because you’d have to imagine that the publishers would quickly file a lawsuit if that’s the case. According to Greg Sandoval, over at, Apple is still negotiating with the publishers. That article includes a typically ridiculous quote from Rick Carnes of the Songwriter’s Guild:

“It’s like giving away ice cream samples–someone has to pay the cost,” said Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America. “I think it would be a good thing for consumers to go to 90 seconds. But they’re tripling the amount of time, and they want it for free. I think there ought to be compensation. I believe anytime you use music, you ought to reward the people making the music.”

Does Rick really believe that? If so, the Songwriters should fire him as their leader. What he should be looking for is what will maximize the revenue overall, not what will maximize the revenue per use. If you get paid per use, and it means shorter previews — but that means many fewer sales and less overall money for the artists, then Carnes with his “anytime you use, you pay” philosophy is doing serious harm to the songwriters. And, of course, the actual evidence goes against Carnes. Studies have shown that such longer previews increases purchasing, but the publishing folks and the songwriters like Carnes are more interested in licensing than in direct sales anyway (even if that’s really short-sighted). It’s too bad that the Songwriters Guild would be represented by someone without their best interests in mind.

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Comments on “Apple Tells Labels, Unilaterally, That It's Increasing Song Previews To 90 Seconds”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Pft, how stupid…

I preview all my music on YouTube anyway, so I can actually hear the full song. There have been far too many times that a 10 second string of bad lyrics, or random insert sounds has absolutely ruined a song for me, and I don’t buy music that I won’t enjoy listening to several times.

Of course, limiting preview times fits in rather well with radio-played music. Most pop music is ridiculously repetitive, with lyrics that are terrible when you actually pay attention to them.

Chosen Reject says:

Re: Re:

It’s too late for this. The last time I bought a song on iTunes (years ago) I already knew exactly which song I wanted. Or so I thought. Apparently there were different versions of the same song that were not clearly labeled. The 30 second preview wasn’t enough pick the one I wanted and I ended up buying the wrong one. It was still a good song, but not the version I wanted. I’ve never been back, and I doubt I ever will.

Jason says:

Who's paying for the sample?

“It’s like giving away ice cream samples–someone has to pay the cost,”

Really? The real question here is bandwith and storage and who pays for that. If it’s Apple, then what this is really like is having your distributor give you free ingredients, equipment, and labor to make extra ice cream to give away free samples to sell more of your ice cream.

And this is bad for who?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And even those are only temporary. You can’t stuff a youtube video into your ipod and listen to it whenever you want. Same with the iTunes previews. I’m not going to sit there and press play on each and every preview, because I don’t have time to deal with that much tediousness. I’m going to just grab the mp3, through whatever channels I need to, slap it into my player of choice, and have it do all that for me.

I think the companies are just being dumb for the sake of being dumb at this point.

Vic says:

It’s funny how the songs are again compared to material goods (ice cream) at one point. And then later in the same quote He admits that it is not really like anything material (“anytime you use music, you ought to reward the people making the music”).

I would like to ask him right away – do you pay the maker of your car EVERY time you drive it? Do you really pay to architects and builders of your home EVERY time you come home? How about paying to clothes designers and taylors every time you get dressed?

John Doe says:

What they are really afraid of...

They are really afraid that in 90 seconds you will be able to figure out the song is crap and not buy it.

One flaw with his logic is giving out ice cream samples is giving out a finite resource so of course it gets paid for. Giving out a sample of 1’s and 0’s is an infinite resource, so why pay for it? Samples don’t cost anybody anything except maybe iTunes who hopes to produce sales.

Danny says:

Re: What they are really afraid of...

Agreed. They want you to almost blindly buy music because it saves the trouble of actually coming up with good quality music.

And as for that ice cream analogy. A sample clip of a song can be heard by people for all of eternity and the only cost would be server maintenance. On the other hand Cold Stone can only give away so many sample spoons of ice cream before the bucket goes empty. So unless this guy is really trying to say that the maintenance on server that can hold sample clip for all eternity (or at least several years) is on par with a bucket of ice cream that only lasts a few hours he doesn’t know his analgies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What they are really afraid of...

Digital content is of course infinite, but you hit the nail on the head with your original point.

Given out free samples of crap tasting ice cream won’t get you any more “sucker” sales. People will try the free sample, spit it out and go to your competitor to get some real ice cream.

He’s thinking the exact same thing will happen with 90 second previews and to make up for the loss in revenue from lost “sucker” sales, he wants some compensation.

Makes sense really.

Michael (profile) says:

Links please.

Not that I disagree, but anytime I see the phrase “studies have shown”, I cringe a little, but only when there are no links to these studies. It may be that you’ve linked to these studies time and again, but I’m sure there are some new people that read techdirt everyday that see this phrase and wonder where exactly these studies may be. Even just a link to a generic page with many more links to the studies in question would be better than nothing.

Pierre Wolff (profile) says:

Love/Hate relationship w/Apple

For as many things as can piss me off with Apple, there’s plenty to like about them too. First they fought the good fight in getting $.99 tracks into iTunes (nevermind that iTunes is a closed system), and now they’re pushing for 90 second tracks, also great for consumers. Love’em or hate’em, Apple has been an important partner in moving the ball forward on getting content distributed online against some very large and powerful industries and their lobbyists. Hope they can pull this latest initiative off as well.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Love/Hate relationship w/Apple

Plus, it shows how stupid the whole argument against this is. Apple have been making those arguments primarily for profit – a fixed price made it as easy as possible for people to shop for music, and reduced the temptation to shop around elsewhere, for example. They put on a face of consumer friendliness, but they position themselves for maximum profit in the long term.

No matter how consumer friendly, Apple are hardly likely to fight for something that *reduces* their iTunes revenue unless it somehow increased their hardware sales. That’s unlikely with increasing preview length, so they literally have no reason to fight for it unless they expect download sales to increase!

PaulT (profile) says:

“It’s like giving away ice cream samples–someone has to pay the cost,”

Erm, yeah… the people supplying the raw materials and shipping costs used. In this case – Apple, who are supplying the server space, bandwidth and administration. It costs the labels absolutely nothing, and costs the songwriters less – what extra costs are incurred by song-writers apart from the mythical “more people might have paid”? Even if you accept the stupid apples-to-oranges comparison of physical goods, it still makes no sense as an argument.

“I believe anytime you use music, you ought to reward the people making the music”

Again, for the utter morons who seem to be in charge of this industry: the use they are putting it is FREE ADVERTISING FOR YOUR PRODUCT. The only reason why people would listen to the free sample instead of buying the product would be if 90 seconds is more than enough – in which case you have a shoddy product. If your song-writing produces less than 90 seconds of a song that’s worth listening to, that’s not Apple’s problem.

For others, it’s a better way to sample the music on offer, especially for those outside of the mainstream pop arena where 30 seconds is woefully inadequate to make sure you have the right song (dance fans often can’t tell if they have the right remix in 30 seconds, for example, as the 6 – 9 minute tracks often have long intros (1-2 minutes) before the main beat/melody kicks in).

Anonymous Coward says:

Mmmm... ice cream...

“It’s like giving away ice cream samples–someone has to pay the cost,” said Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America.

This is funny because giving away ice cream samples is actually great for business–I know that when I go to an ice cream place that lets you have small free samples of a bunch of flavors before you decide, I almost always end up buying a 3-4 scoop large, whereas when the store doesn’t let you try samples, I usually end up with a 1-2 scoop small/medium of just a flavor or two that I’m sure I’ll like.

Of course, here, unlike with ice cream where the samples actually cost something, the samples cost basically nothing to provide.

jdub (profile) says:

Apple is simply trying to play catch up at this point. A lot of the electronic download sites (Juno, MixedUpMusic, etc) you can already listen to the full track let alone 90 second previews. They do this by either overlaying an audio vocal over the song at specific intervals, or only stream 30-60 sec of the song at a time, and if you want to here more of it, or specific section, you have to click on the slider.

Anonymous Coward says:

Rick Carnes is right on the money with this one. Apple is increasing the amount of bandwidth they use on previews by 3, and they are eating the whole cost. Somebody should help Apple out here, and since Rick was the one to identify this injustice, I think he should pay, out of pocket, for all the benefit that this will bring the the songwriters he represents. Anything less would be proof positive that he is a selfish liar.

Anonymous Coward says:

I wonder who does this "apple" thing.

Man, that’s great. I wonder who runs this company… Because whoever it is seems like a a great CEO. Given the opportunity, the guy who runs this “apple company” is probably a much better CEO than blowhards at competititors.

In a way, it’s like comparing Mike Ho to Mike Masnick. Simply no comparison.

pringerX (profile) says:

Same old story

The boneheadedness of the recording industry is pretty spectacular. I think another reason they refuse to acknowledge CwF/RtB is that they’re too damn lazy- it’s not that they’re averse to a more effective business model, it’s just easier to leech off of the existing system (and run it into the ground).
The main ‘disadvantage’ I see to CwF/RtB is that it requires a major, continued investment of energy; you have to stay connected and keep giving fans reasons to buy. Which is not a problem for those at the ground level (i.e. musicians) because that’s what their passion is, but when you’re a fat cat exec, then it’s way too much effort.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve always thought it was wrong that radio stations have to pay to play a song. The Radio Station pays a record company for the rights to play a recording of a song over the air, which gets the song adored by millions who then purchase the song ( probably one good song on a suck album) which makes the record company filthy rich.

Then the station turns around and charges someone who is not a record producer to put their recording on the same radio station(the recording may even have a song in it) and we call this “Advertising”.

Seems to me Apple should be charging the record companies for 90 seconds worth of advertising.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The Radio Station pays a record company

Actually, they don’t. Radio stations (of the non-internet kind) do not pay royalties to record companies, they only pay songwriters and publishers.

I’m betting that’s why publishers believe they deserve a piece of this pie. The “advertising” justification doesn’t work for radio, so (they believe) it shouldn’t work for any form of promotion.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is nothing like giving out samples of ice cream. The music is one digital copy of the performance, if these artists had to actually perform the 90 second clip of the music, you could indeed liken it to giving out samples of ice cream. The only company that has to pay for any of this increase in sample size is Apple and by way of increased data usage on their servers. This tool acts like he’s making the ‘ice cream’ by hand.

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