According to Billboard, indie labels are distressed about some of the recent changes to the iTunes Store, which may presage a change to the direction of the iTunes Store.
One notable change is the way the iTunes Store seems to no longer be curating the music that appears in the carrousels at the top of pages. (These are the sections with rotating graphics that cycle through a half-dozen artists or albums.) This allowed many indie albums to get highlighted along with big names. Previously, all these featured items were chosen by editorial staff at the iTunes Store. Now, these highlighted albums will be chosen according to the number of sales they have realized. “The switch to using a sales velocity algorithm to determine what is featured on iTunes’ carousel will ultimately favor the major labels,” says Billboard.
Together with other changes, such as culling a lot of “sound-alike” tracks, and focusing on different types of music, leads some record industry executives to fear that Apple is going to simply highlight what sells the most.
“Some indie executives are wondering if iTunes is transitioning from being like a Tower Records to becoming like a Best Buy store, with an emphasis [on] hit titles and leaving the niche genres and long tail as an afterthought.”
These changes suggest a re-think of the iTunes Store as sales are starting to flag, and as Apple prepares for the roll-out of a streaming service. It could be that the iTunes Store is going to focus more on what sells and let their streaming service take care of what people want to stream. There is probably a different set of songs and albums that people want to buy, and it would make sense for the iTunes Store to highlight them. However, this would suggest that Apple’s streaming service might not be integrated into the iTunes Store, as has been rumored.
The long honeymoon is over. Digital music sales are on the way down, and streaming is becoming the norm. The iTunes Store will undoubtedly change as the company offers music streaming. While this may not be good for indie labels, Apple clearly doesn’t owe them anything, even if the presence of indie labels may have helped bring a certain demographic to the iTunes Store. It may be time for indie labels to focus on selling their music directly, and accept that the iTunes Store is just another retail outlet.