Yesterday, reports claimed that Apple was drawing up plans to leave digital music sales. The company was said to be in the “when, not if” phase, and was debating leaving the market on either a two-year or 3-4 year timeline. Today, the Cupertino company has stated that these reports are “not true,” and that it has no imminent plans to leave downloadable music.
The reason the rumor that Apple might leave downloads likely spread as far as it did is simple: iTunes sales have been falling for years, and they aren’t likely to recover. Streaming services have been siphoning revenue from downloads as consumers move away from iTunes and towards Spotify, Pandora, and of course, Apple Music.
This slide shows how revenue splits have shifted over time, with revenue earned by streaming services up $957 million while digital downloads have declined by $452 million. The difference between the two figures implies that significant amount of customers have either signed up for streaming services that didn’t previously purchase music, or that the average revenue from streaming services is significantly higher compared with how much music people tended to buy.
When the iTunes Store first launched, many analysts and pundits fretted about the loss of control inherent to digital media as opposed to physical CDs. Streaming music degrades that ownership further — if you download music in a file format like MP3, you can typically do what you please with that file thereafter. Services like Apple Music are meant to blur the line between downloadable songs and streaming, and Apple touts the ability to match songs you have in your library to music on its own streaming service. In theory, this uploads copies of your songs into a personal cloud that Apple can then stream to you on demand, without changing anything about your hard drive or the data stored therein.
Unfortunately, Apple Music doesn’t always get its facts straight. Roughly a week ago, music enthusiast and Apple Music subscriber James Pinkstone published a blog postdetailing how roughly 60GB of music had been wiped off his hard drive by Apple Music. An Apple customer service representative told him this was working as intended, while others claimed that this couldn’t have happened — Pinkstone must have made a mistake that wiped his system.
Now a different person, Robert Etropolsky, has come forward with a similar story — 60GB of music wiped off his system (Pinkstone lost 122GB). The YouTube video above addresses claims that Etropolsky or Pinkstone somehow did something wrong to delete their own massive music collections; Etropolsky shows that his music was previously stored in a Time Machine backup, reiterates that the music files that were once on his system have vanished since he subscribed to Apple Music, and notes that there’s no way to replace them. When he downloads files from Apple Music, they’re downloaded in an encrypted Apple format and will be deleted if he ever stops being an Apple Music subscriber.
In his particular case, the problem is exacerbated because much of his collection was based on rare recordings, demo tapes, and other rare versions of songs that were “matched,” uploaded, and then deleted from his hard drive. He also demonstrates that Apple’s music matching service isn’t as foolproof as the company thinks it is — in one case it deleted a song off his hard drive while offering a completely different piece of music as an uploaded alternative.
It’s still not clear how this happened or what’s responsible for the issue, but problems like this aren’t just going to just go away. Streaming services can be enormously convenient, but high profile stories like this are one reason to keep your digital music collection far away from a service like Apple Music. For some, the convenience simply isn’t worth the risk.