iTunes vs Streaming Services

Using iTunes has always evolved with us to make sure that if we had legacy music on compact discs but we were entering the iPod era, we could still keep our music collection whilst embracing new technologies that the iTunes Store brought – namely digital music.

As the pace of technology increases ever still, digital music has now evolved to the extent where there are competitions for Apple and their dominant iTunes Store who firmly believe people should own their music. Competitors like Spotify, Rdio to name but two believe that the future of music available to the consumer should be subscription.

iTunes

With iTunes, your music is yours, it’s purchased whether that is digital songs and albums you have purchased via the iTunes Store or whether it’s CD’s that you have ripped to your computer and made available to merge with your iTunes purchases in the service they call iTunes Match. The advantage to owning your music means that is will always be available to you. You can have your music backed up and stored on cloud and local drives – no music company can, in theory, ever take away your music where as if you subscribe to a music subscription company like Spotify, there is a risk – a small risk that in future a music company can remove the rights for their artists with Spotify and therefore you wouldn’t be able to have access to that music as Jason Snell alludes to recently when talking about the video streaming industry;

Streaming-music service libraries are, for the time being, stable. Chances are good that I won’t ever turn on Beats and discover that every Death Cab for Cutie album has vanished from the service’s library.

The same, however, is not true with online video-streaming services. I was reminded of this when I discovered today that the reimagined “Battlestar Galactica” series expires from Netflix on Tuesday. Someone, somewhere, will be in the middle of watching or re-watching that series next week, only to see it disappear. And it’s just one of dozens of items that will drop off of Netflix at the end of the month.

It’s not as if “Battlestar Galactica” is going out of print; you’ll be able to buy it at Amazon in digital and physical varieties, and download it from iTunes, too. Its disappearance from Netflix may coincide closely with its appearance on another streaming service. Who knows?

The point is, if you’re a Netflix subscriber—or an Amazon Prime customer, for that matter—you are binge-watching in a Barcalounger in a rumpus room built on shifting sands. If your service and the owner of the content can’t come to an agreement, if some competitor swoops in offering more money for exclusive rights, you’re out of luck. The rug can, and will, be pulled out from under you.

I love video streaming services. I subscribe to more of them than I probably should, considering that I am now technically a gentleman of leisure. But the constant disappearing of content sours the entire experience.

Subscription Music

If the stability of the subscription model continues to work, then there certainly is scope for switching to the subscription model and moving away from iTunes. Spotify for example offers a paid subscription of around £9.99 per month but this gives you access to the majority of music available in digital format including access to the latest albums and tracks when they are released. This is a very clean way to enjoy your music – apart from the option of downloading your music offline, you don’t need local or cloud storage to keep all this music. This means you can perhaps lean on the streaming way of listening to music therefore requiring smaller storage devices such as 16mb versions of your favourite device instead of the more expensive alternatives.

A subscription company like Spotify is also cross-platform meaning you can access your music on most any computer or mobile device with all your playlists synced across for convenience. If you are the type who likes to purchase music on a regular basis, then the subscription model might be the smart choice. Instead of paying the full price of an album each time, you would just be paying the monthly fee of £9.99 but you can listen to as much music as you like. This would also be beneficial due to the listen-before-you-buy-way that iTunes can’t really offer. If you bought a whole album of iTunes, listened to it and didn’t like it, you might feel aggrieved that you purchased an album you didn’t like. A subscription service like Spotify – this wouldn’t be a problem, you could you delete the album and listen to another with no added expense.

My own use case

I have a large iTunes library of music built up over the years, mostly from ripping my entire CD collection into iTunes then enabling iTunes Match to give me a merged digital library. I also like to purchase the occasional music video from iTunes where I feel sometimes a music video can add even more to a track. This enables me to build up a sort of jukebox of my favourite music videos over the years which I can enjoy on my Apple TV at home.

Although I love music, I am not one of these people who likes to listen to 2-3 albums per week/month – the music that I do buy off iTunes is normally where I have heard a track being played on TV or a friends house or at the mall – it could be anywhere and I obviously utilise Shazam to tag now with iOS 8 buy the songs I hear straight from Siri. The point is, there is maybe only ever around half a dozen tracks per month that I hear and want to own to put in my carefully crafted playlists. I don’t buy albums anymore – I buy singles and make my own playlists to replace listening to an album.

If you utilise podcasts properly, you can also do what I do and collate and listen to great new music, whatever your genre of choice for free that way. The way I looked at it was that for the majority of the year, I pay less than £9.99 per month for new music. I own it, it’s curated by me and there is no realistic chance of it going away.

Owning your music or subscribing to music is down to how much music you actually buy. If you spend more than say £9.99 per month on music, then a subscription service might be the smarter choice. For the generation like me who is from the CD and iPod era, owning your music was the only viable choice. For the new generation, buying music will seem alien to them and subscription is definitely the way of the future.

I am of the CD and iPod era in that I invested a lot of time and money in it back then to readily leave it behind. Maybe I’ll switch in the future. Maybe Beats new owners will have a say on that but for now it’s personal choice – there’s not a lot in it. For me, for the moment – I’ll stick to owning my music.