Apple Music’s User Numbers: Good, Bad, or Meh?

When October 1st arrived, those earliest of adopters who signed up for Apple Music on day one saw their first credit card charge for the service. There’d been much speculation as to how many people would switch from a three-month trial subscription to a recurring, monthly, paid subscription of Apple Music. According to Tim Cook, Apple Music has 15 million users and 6.5 million paying subscribers. But what do those numbers actually mean?

There are three types of subscribers:

  • People who decided that they do, indeed, want to spend $10 (or whatever the cost is in their country) for Apple Music.
  • People who signed up for a $15 family plan, in which case there are anywhere from 2 to 6 users per account.
  • People who had simply forgotten to cancel their subscription. When you signed up for a trial, you had to provide a credit card number. If you didn’t cancel in time, you would be billed, at least for the first month.

It’s safe to assume that when Tim Cook talks about a number of “paying subscribers” he doesn’t mean paid accounts. The family plan is a very good deal $15, so it’s likely that a couple of million people represent family plan users. If you lop off the people who forgot to cancel their subscription and got billed for the first month, even though they don’t use the service, it’s probably safe to assume that there are between three and 4 million accounts.

This is not a bad number at all. Compare this to Spotify, whose latest numbers claim “over 20 million” subscribers, this for “over 75 million” active users. But Spotify has been around for much longer, especially in Europe. The company has slowly built up its subscriber base.

For Apple to have amassed 3 to 4 million paid accounts in just a few months is no mean feat. However, given Apple’s objectives, and the way that Apple Music is baked into iOS 9 and iTunes, I think the company expected more. Especially that Apple Music has only 15 million total users (8.5 million still on trials). Compared to the total number of iOS users – a few hundred million – that’s a drop in the bucket.

I think this sector bases its predictions, and objectives, on erroneous assumptions: that people are willing to pay this much money per month to stream music. When casual listeners can get the same music for free from YouTube, or an ad-supported streaming service such as Spotify, or even the radio, they’re unlikely to want to spend $10 a month. Don’t get me wrong; Apple Music, with 30 million tracks, is an immense music library. It is certainly a good deal at that price, but if you are not a big music fan, you simply won’t spend that money. And if you are serious music lover, you may find that you don’t get your money’s worth because you already own so much music that you listen to regularly.

I think it is going to be an uphill battle for Apple. While the company dominated in music sales for a very long time with the iTunes Store, they are entering a crowded field of music streaming services. In addition, the $10 price point seems to be a bit high for those people who only use music as wallpaper. What would it take: lowering the monthly price to $5? Perhaps many more people would sign up at that price, and not worry too much if they don’t use the service a lot. (That is more or less what Apple Music costs per person on the family plan.)

If Apple really has a target of 100 million subscribers, I think it will take a long time to reach that number. Apple Music, with its confusing interface, is hard to use, and doesn’t invite engagement. To achieve such high numbers, I think Apple needs to lower its price, and improve the interface of the Music app, and of iTunes. Again, Apple Music at $5 a month would be a great deal, but it wouldn’t result in the same payouts to record labels. We’ll know more after a few months, after more people have ended their trials, but, for now, I’d say the numbers aren’t brilliant.

8 thoughts on “Apple Music’s User Numbers: Good, Bad, or Meh?

  1. Kirk, you know my opinion of Apple Music. It’s time for me to THANK YOU for pointing us to music app alternatives to iTunes for iOS. I’m now using Picky and loving it! Was happy to pay the $3, and likely will never go back to iTunes and its overbearing Apple Music interference on any iOS device, though I still use iTunes on my laptops.)

    I used to be able to do a few very simple things in the iTunes music app on my phone and iPad that I no longer can. I’m guessing a lot of users don’t know alternate apps are available. To me, Apple Music is like the ads I use adblockers to avoid. Picky is an Apple Music blocker. I have let all my friends who have iOS devices know about the alternatives. I’d be surprised if Apple ever achieves great success with it. We are used to control, and it takes that away.

    Anyway, thanks again.

  2. Kirk, you know my opinion of Apple Music. It’s time for me to THANK YOU for pointing us to music app alternatives to iTunes for iOS. I’m now using Picky and loving it! Was happy to pay the $3, and likely will never go back to iTunes and its overbearing Apple Music interference on any iOS device, though I still use iTunes on my laptops.)

    I used to be able to do a few very simple things in the iTunes music app on my phone and iPad that I no longer can. I’m guessing a lot of users don’t know alternate apps are available. To me, Apple Music is like the ads I use adblockers to avoid. Picky is an Apple Music blocker. I have let all my friends who have iOS devices know about the alternatives. I’d be surprised if Apple ever achieves great success with it. We are used to control, and it takes that away.

    Anyway, thanks again.

  3. I normally appreciate Apple products and I use them for more than 20 years now. But when the latest iTunes upgrade, this week, erased all my playlists, that was too much. We are a family of 6 and Apple plan is a real bargain. But I cannot anymore: iTunes mess, dysfunctional service, uninteresting curations, etc. I really don’t understand how Apple can so much miss the target; they say that they love music, but they don’t demonstrate it. It is sad. So I am going back to Deezer.

  4. I normally appreciate Apple products and I use them for more than 20 years now. But when the latest iTunes upgrade, this week, erased all my playlists, that was too much. We are a family of 6 and Apple plan is a real bargain. But I cannot anymore: iTunes mess, dysfunctional service, uninteresting curations, etc. I really don’t understand how Apple can so much miss the target; they say that they love music, but they don’t demonstrate it. It is sad. So I am going back to Deezer.

  5. You make excellent points, especially the one about price points and wallpaper listeners. But for me, and I know I’m not the kind of customer Apple’s marketing is after, Apple Music is an awesome bargain.

    I collect music and my listening is about 80% Classical. When I find something I like I download it for offline. I’m on a tight budget. For the price of about one discounted CD a month I have access to a lot more music than before. And there’s no way in hell I could walk into a record store and just buy one CD! For example I now have complete sets of all of Mozart’s and Beethoven’s piano sonatas that I couldn’t afford to buy 3 months ago. Other services out there I’ve seen seem to be all pop hits with Classical a distant afterthought. AM has a much better, though not exhaustive, selection.

    Can’t afford a smartphone so I haven’t had any iOS issues. And other than a smattering of glitches with artwork, my middle sized (13000 “songs”) iTunes library has survived AM and iCloud Music Library just fine so far.

    So for me AM is a big thumbs up, not a middle finger. YMMV.

  6. You make excellent points, especially the one about price points and wallpaper listeners. But for me, and I know I’m not the kind of customer Apple’s marketing is after, Apple Music is an awesome bargain.

    I collect music and my listening is about 80% Classical. When I find something I like I download it for offline. I’m on a tight budget. For the price of about one discounted CD a month I have access to a lot more music than before. And there’s no way in hell I could walk into a record store and just buy one CD! For example I now have complete sets of all of Mozart’s and Beethoven’s piano sonatas that I couldn’t afford to buy 3 months ago. Other services out there I’ve seen seem to be all pop hits with Classical a distant afterthought. AM has a much better, though not exhaustive, selection.

    Can’t afford a smartphone so I haven’t had any iOS issues. And other than a smattering of glitches with artwork, my middle sized (13000 “songs”) iTunes library has survived AM and iCloud Music Library just fine so far.

    So for me AM is a big thumbs up, not a middle finger. YMMV.

  7. Good article, Kirk. I agree that AM’s numbers seem…underwhelming, if respectable.

    I let my AM membership expire with the free trial. Basically, Apple didn’t persuade me that it was better than the competition.

    1. Players. Spotify and Rdio have web players; AM does not. Spotify and Rdio have Android apps; AM does not. (I work on a government computer where I cannot install software. I listen to Rdio all the time, but can’t install iTunes).

    2. Catalog. AM’s catalog overlaps 99% with Rdio/Spotify, and basically is no better.

    3. Curation/Discovery: Rdio hasn’t quite nailed this yet. Spotify is improving rapidly. AM’s Human curation is better than Rdio/Spotify, but doesn’t provide a lasting edge. With a limited staff, AM provides a limited number of recommendations, which repeat themselves again and again. The other services seem to have less repetition.

    4. Beats 1. I like to think I’m the edgy, current, young-at-heart listener who craves all this hip-hop stuff, but I’m not. I’m a middle aged lawyer who likes classical music and 1980s throwbacks. Beats 1 just doesn’t cater to me. I hope it’s successful among the kids, but it’s just not for me.

    5. Connect. It’s really not happening.

    6. Library integration. I thought this would be AM’s big win–combine your library with the streaming library! But the early bumps in the road were dispiriting, and the feature just didn’t satisfy me as much as I thought.

    7. UI. Needs improvement. Both Spotify and Rdio have really improved on this front. Apple will too, but it needs frequent updates.

    So there you have it. The most important thing for me is number 1–ubiquity. I need to be able to play music anywhere, and Apple just doesn’t do that yet. That is, AM should forget about the extra features and concentrate on simply making music available to its listeners anytime, anywhere.

    Success will follow.

  8. Good article, Kirk. I agree that AM’s numbers seem…underwhelming, if respectable.

    I let my AM membership expire with the free trial. Basically, Apple didn’t persuade me that it was better than the competition.

    1. Players. Spotify and Rdio have web players; AM does not. Spotify and Rdio have Android apps; AM does not. (I work on a government computer where I cannot install software. I listen to Rdio all the time, but can’t install iTunes).

    2. Catalog. AM’s catalog overlaps 99% with Rdio/Spotify, and basically is no better.

    3. Curation/Discovery: Rdio hasn’t quite nailed this yet. Spotify is improving rapidly. AM’s Human curation is better than Rdio/Spotify, but doesn’t provide a lasting edge. With a limited staff, AM provides a limited number of recommendations, which repeat themselves again and again. The other services seem to have less repetition.

    4. Beats 1. I like to think I’m the edgy, current, young-at-heart listener who craves all this hip-hop stuff, but I’m not. I’m a middle aged lawyer who likes classical music and 1980s throwbacks. Beats 1 just doesn’t cater to me. I hope it’s successful among the kids, but it’s just not for me.

    5. Connect. It’s really not happening.

    6. Library integration. I thought this would be AM’s big win–combine your library with the streaming library! But the early bumps in the road were dispiriting, and the feature just didn’t satisfy me as much as I thought.

    7. UI. Needs improvement. Both Spotify and Rdio have really improved on this front. Apple will too, but it needs frequent updates.

    So there you have it. The most important thing for me is number 1–ubiquity. I need to be able to play music anywhere, and Apple just doesn’t do that yet. That is, AM should forget about the extra features and concentrate on simply making music available to its listeners anytime, anywhere.

    Success will follow.

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