Steve Jobs Was Right; I Was Wrong — I Wanna Own My Music

Because I was highly involved in the online content subscription business of Ancestry.com in the late 90s and early 00s, I thought I was pretty smart. When Apple jumped into the music industry with its iPod and iTunes service, I thought they were pretty smart, but I also thought that everyone else ganging up on Apple would cause a big dent in its music business, and that eventually the iPod would go the way of the Mac, and end up with a relatively small market share. I especially thought Steve Jobs was wrong when he said customers wanted to own their own music and not rent it. How could a pay-per-download model ever compete with an all-you-can-eat subscription model that would give me everything I ever wanted for a low monthly fee?

I had a Rio mp3 player back in 1999 or 2000, so I had a little experience with mobile music. But I had a lot of experience with online genealogy where basically every customer wanted unlimited access to everything. The subscription model worked great with genealogy. Every day we added new data. Every day customers had more content to search through to find their ancestors. I believed all-you-could-eat subscriptions were the way to go. I assumed this would be true in the music industry as well.

So I bought my first iPod, a 20GB version about 3 years ago, and I had lots of trouble with it. The battery went bad pretty soon. I had trouble with synchronization. And many of the audio books I bought on Audible were downloaded in a format that didn’t seem Apple friendly. I was pretty unhappy.

Later, I bought a Creative Zen, a 30GB, I think, and decided to try Yahoo Music, an unlimited music subscription service that launched with a great introductory offer of $6.95 per month. I was sure that a non-Apple player combined with an all-you-can-eat non-Apple music service would be much better than the Apple approach.

But the Yahoo Music service was not compatible with my Zen. I think I paid Yahoo for 3-4 months before getting around to cancelling the service. So then I turned to Buy.com, with its BuyMusic.com web site, and I started buying tunes there. But a lot of songs I wanted I couldn’t find there. And I had some difficulties getting the music onto my Zen. The music management software I was using was actually not that great.

Finally, a month or so ago, I decided it was time to try an iPod again, and this time it would be a video iPod. I needed to get some of the 10Speed Media video productions on a video iPod so I could show the work to potential customers. I also wanted to get tons of LDSAudio.com and mp3books.com content onto an iPod and start demonstrating the power of LDS audio and video clips to employees and customers of our LDS Media company.

So I bought a 60GB video iPod. I started using iTunes, which now has excellent synchronization, a way bigger supply of music than anyone else, a great podcast directory, and it’s easy to get videos onto my iPod as well.

More than anything, I have come to believe that Steve Jobs was absolutely right. People want to own their music. They don’t want to rent it. There are probably only a few hundred songs that I’ll ever want on my iPod. I have my running music, my easy listening music, and I want to listen to tons of podcasts and audio books. But music? Just my favorites. And I’d love to own them, thank you very much.

I have decided that the concept of an all-you-can-eat music subscription is really not that great of an idea for most people. We have the songs we love and we might occasionally start liking a new one. But paying $14.95 per month to try out lots of new songs? No thanks. I just want my favorite music, mainly songs from the 80s. I like to listen to the same stuff over and over and over again. Give me Earth, Wind and Fire’s “In the Stone” and Gloria Estefan’s “Turn the Beat Around” every time I run. I need those songs. I don’t want to sample new music when I exercise.

But with other types of content, like audio books and video, anything educational, I want variety. I almost never want to see the same movie twice. So I would want an all-you-can-eat subscription model there. With audio, I want to hear lectures from new conferences or from universities every month–different ones every time. So I want an unlimited subscription there, with new content being added regularly.

But Steve Jobs was absolutely right about the music. I do want to own it.

And now he owns me.

I am now an Apple iPod and iTunes fanatic. Apple has nailed it. From the awesome out of the box experience in opening the iPod to the feel of it in your hand, to the amazing video display, and the simple earphones that don’t have ear buds that keep falling off, to the incredible iTunes selection for music, podcasts, and video — the whole experience is phenomenal.

So it’s no wonder that consumer surveys show that Jobs was right and that consumers want to own their music..

Here are some interesting stats: 20% of Americans now own an mp3 player, up from 15% last year. 54% of teens do. But only 25% of mp3 users buy songs from a download service. Mostly they rip tunes from their own CD collection (since they already bought the music once.)

So Jobs wins round one handily in the digital music wars. But he still has challengers on all sides, and the biggest potential challenges (based on all the hype and investment and TV ads) might be the mobile phone companies. A few months back I read that more than 950 million devices capable of playing mp3 music would be shipped in 2009 alone, and that most of those devices would be cell phones.

So how will Apple handle the challenge from mobile phones? Many people are speculating that an Apple iPhone is in the works.

Wikipedia has an amazingly comprehensive article on iPod (compare it to Britannica’s content on iPod in case you are skeptical of Wikipedia. Okay, to be fair, we can’t access Britannica’s premium content, but can you imagine them having a better article on iPod than Wikipedia? No way. Wikipedia gets updated regularly, whenever Apple makes a new announcement or has new sales figures or new models. Wikipedia rocks.)

11 Comments

  1. Steve Jobs could never be wrong! 😛 His all-powerful reality distortion field demands obeisance of his true followers!

    On a serious note, I think you’re very right. Jobs and Apple have created a product/system that “just works”, makes it easy to use for the end user (as does their OS), offers a widespread variety of content, and lets you keep what you buy.

    I heart Apple.

  2. Turtle

    I’m sorry, but this post was really bad. It has nothing to do with owning your music, and everything to do with being able to access your music. You mentioned numerous reasons why you disliked your other mp3 players and services and why you really like the iPod/iTunes setup, but none of them were “I own the music.”

  3. Turtle

    Also, I guess I’ll forgive you for missing this, because I just realized it, but with iTunes/iPod YOU DON’T OWN YOUR MUSIC! You can only use the music you purchase as long as you use iTunes, thanks to DRM, so you it really is a subscription service not ownership.

  4. Gary

    For people with a wider ranges of musical preferences/interests, the subscription model works very well. I’m very happy with my Creative Zen Vision M and Yahoo! Music service.

    If you are only interested in a non expanding niche of music (the 80’s are long over Paul) then yes Steve is probably right and you should go own your music (and I can’t argue with the Ipods numbers). However, the subscription model is far more valuable for me as I can try out new music or discover new artists as if I own them all.

    In addition, I do appreciate Apple’s success in that it has pushed the competitors to release superior to Ipod players. For example, the Creative Zen Vision M has better battery life, a more vibrant and colorful screen, FM Tuner Recorder, voice recorder and supports more video formats.

    Although it is tempting to say “ignorance is bliss” for Ipod owners, I suppose if you don’t listen to a lot of music and don’t compare features lists with rival products then what you got is good enough.

  5. Ignorance isn’t bliss. Granted, many have hopped on the iPod bandwagon just because it’s a fad. But some of us actually like the iTunes model and the iPod. iPods are pleasing to look at. 98% of other mp3 players are not. iPods are easy to use. 98% of other mp3 players are not (unless they copied the iPod, such as Creative).

    And Turtle, just because you are “forced” to use iTunes does not mean that you don’t own your music. The DRM is simply in place to prevent pirating your owned material. I don’t wholly agree with it, but I don’t disagree with it either. It’s a wise business practice to satisfy the concerns of your clients. Why would artists sign up in iTunes if users just download the music and then put it up on the web for free?

    I’m sure you own DVDs. DVDs have CSS encryption in them to prevent you from (easily) creating a duplicate, or recording to VHS. Would you also argue, then, that the DVD you bought last week isn’t your own?

  6. I definitely agree that the ipod/itunes combo is the most conenvient and elegant combination in the mp3 world, but even though I am a mac user, I don’t own an ipod anymore.

    The reason is that I am one of those people mentioned by Gary that is constantly expanding their music interests. As a result, I spend much much less per month on music now that I have a Creative zen micro combined with the Rhapsody service. My monthly expenditures on music have dropped from around $100 a month to $14.95 and I have access to almost everything I could want. The Creative player and Rhapsody work perfectly together and never hang my work hp laptop.

    So even though I think the ipod is a much better player and though I use a mac for most everything, because of my music listening habits, I’m willing to take some tradeoffs in elegance and function to save myself around $85 a month

  7. Jordy

    “I have decided that the concept of an all-you-can-eat music subscription is really not that great of an idea for most people.”

    But it’s great for some, including me. I would pay that in a heartbeat.

  8. Colin Jensen

    I discover music primarily through Last.fm and Pandora. But sooner or later, if I love the songs, I still have to buy them. And when I do I ethically struggle for a day or two whether to strip the DRM off the downloads (because last year I lost all my purchased music because of DRM), and usually after a few days end up ripping them to MP3 so I own the music. LDSAudio avoids the DRM issue by allowing you to dowload a purchased track as many times as you like.

    But no, I personally couldn’t use iTunes for precisely that reason, I don’t own anything, am constantly being sales pitched by Apple, and know that if my hard drive ever breaks down I’ve lost an extra coupla’ hundred bucks because I’ll never get the new machine to recognize Apple’s DRM-ed music. People don’t download music because they rip their friends’ CDs, not their own. (I don’t, for my own moral reasons.)

    Then again I’ve never believed in subscription models. I want legislation to stand up for America and allow non-DRMed own-it downloads. If not the industry will eventually turn to last.fm and pandora.

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