iTunes May Not Be That Popular, But It Serves Its Purpose
from the locked-in-and-lovin-it dept
A new analyst report says that just 5 percent of the tracks on the average iPod are bought from iTunes -- a figure that really shouldn't be all that surprising, given that Apple intended it to be a loss leader to sell more iPods. People are still buying music on CD, and they're still using file-sharing networks, illustrating two realities: first, that the mere existence of digital distribution doesn't mean people will overlook its shortcomings and flock to it in droves; second, that despite the availability of free music, people are still paying for it. Digital music sales offer some benefits over buying CDs or other physical media, but for many consumers, the lack of playback restrictions on music ripped from CDs and the benefit of owning something tangible outweigh the convenience and minor price savings legal downloads offer. In addition, the widespread availability of CDs, often at discount prices, makes that convenience less compelling. This report comes at the same time that other makers of digital music players are working to integrate online music stores more deeply into their products, as their latest attempt to unseat the iPod's dominance. The report would suggest that this is something of a wasted effort, as it puts too much credence in the iTunes store as the reason for the iPod's success. It's just a small part, though, alongside the iPod's ease of use, its fashionability and the "cool factor" it carries -- though, of course, those last two elements, arguably the most important, are the most difficult to copy. But even though the average iPod carries such a relatively small amount of music from iTunes, it's enough to serve Apple's other, more important purpose: to lock consumers in to the iPod. After all, who wants to switch to a different brand of music player, if it means losing the ability to play some music -- no matter how little -- they've bought (DRM hacks notwithstanding). That obstacle may be the biggest one facing other manufacturers, not the tight integration of any old music service. Instead of wasting resources on that integration, they should be looking at ways to break the Apple lock-in.