Ownership vs. access

Apple recently upgraded its iTunes application, in the process dashing the hopes of users worldwide.  It turns out iTunes is the Apple product you’re most likely to hate: bloated, clunky and ultimately an appendage on mobile devices.

Because iTunes was built as a media hub, storing everything from music, movies and television shows to podcasts, books and apps, it has had a hard time adjusting to a world that increasingly is not tied to the desktop or laptop. Trying to serve a half-dozen formats, iTunes seems to do justice to none of them.

Lately, the container nature of the original iTunes model has attracted some attention.

In an archly titled article on Cnet (“Apple turns iTunes up to 11”), Josh Lowensohn observed that the command-and-control nature of the desktop/laptop app is “at a crossroads”. Of the 20 billion songs purchased through Apple, two thirds have been bought using mobile.

Significant year-over-year growth in the use of streaming music services (e.g. Pandora) is reported to have led to a 21% drop in the number of music files played from portable devices. Although iTunes is rumored to be developing a streaming service, it’s reasonable to ask how it can compete against existing options.

At Hypebot.com, Eliot Van Buskirk suggested one path forward: make iTunes an open API that various media-specific services could build on. He likens his idea to the approach taken by Twitter, which supports multiple clients (“at least for now”).

Van Buskirk points out a critical aspect of the iTunes software model:

“Yes, iTunes lets you put your downloads in the cloud, but they’re still downloads. An API could be a better cloud strategy, because you’d be able to buy anywhere in the cloud without going through locally-downloaded software.”

The success of Pandora and other streaming services may reflect a growing preference for access over ownership. A more open API could help iTunes (and Apple) retain a leading position among those consumers who remain ready and willing to buy.

There are lessons for publishers, too: if the digital content model shifts from ownership (to the extent that an eBook is owned) to simply access, container-driven formats may give way to more web-like standards. We might see new business models that could include subscription services and pay-as-you-read options.

This is the right time to be thinking about the implications of new formats and business models on how we create, maintain and disseminate content. Coming on the heels of a lot of backlist conversion efforts, that might be hard to embrace, but it will help publishers remain agile as consumers (quickly) evolve their reading preferences.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.