iTunes Pass – First Take

There’s a lot of buzz that Apple’s getting into the subscription music business with the launch of a iTunes Pass today. What’s iTunes pass? From the EMI press release.

With iTunes Pass, music fans can get new and exclusive singles, remixes, video and other content from their favorite artists over a set period of time, delivered to their libraries as soon as they’re available. The first iTunes Pass debuts today in conjunction with Depeche Mode’s forthcoming 12th studio album, “Sounds of the Universe,” to be released on April 21 in the US. Fans who sign up starting today get the alternative/dance pioneers’ new single, “Wrong,” as well as the Black Light Odyssey Dub Remix of the new track “Oh Well.”  They will also receive the new album on its street date plus great music and video exclusives before and after the album’s release over the next fifteen weeks. The Depeche Mode iTunes Pass can be purchased starting today for $18.99.

Well, I guess it’s technically a subscription but this hardly Apple getting into the same business as Zune Pass, REAL’s Rhapsody or Nokia’s Comes With Music. What this is an updated distribution model for content ownership, which is actually pretty important (but not important enough for Apple to make the announcement as opposed to EMI). The question is what exactly am I getting over the next fifteen weeks in terms of content that would make this valuable?

Over time, this is something that can help the industry drive new revenues but it doesn’t quite change the game in a major way. Subscription services based on the “all you can eat model” for a fixed monthly fee still face challenges. Consumers for the most part still only recognize two models for music consumption, the free and ad supported stuff on radio or music you bought or owned. While consumers "rent" content all the time from theaters, cable companies, netflix etc, there’s also a lot of other stuff sold on dvd. This is not binary, rent or buy. It’s going to be both side by side but the first step to making this mainstream is to educate and evangelize the market, which is something REAL, Napster, Microsoft etc have all failed to do. Perhaps iTunes Pass will start to engage the market at a different level and help change consumer thoughts on how music is purchased and consumed. That could lead the way to more interesting stuff down the road.


Update – EMI clarified what you get over the fifteen week period. “in addition to the two tracks today + album, more than a dozen indiv pieces of content, inc lots of exclusive stuff.” Seems like a pretty good deal if you’re a fan of the band.

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