The Brick Wall Between the iTunes Store and Apple Music

In an article I posted earlier today, commenting on how some people like Apple Music and others don’t, I clarified something that Dave Mark said about how you can’t easily buy music from the iTunes Store when you’re in the Apple Music section of the iOS Music app, or in iTunes. I showed that you can, but that you can’t go in the other direction.

This raises an interesting point, and it’s worth explaining why (I think) Apple is keeping a strict separation between Apple Music and the iTunes Store.

First, some context. Music download sales are declining, and Apple, as the largest digital music retailer, is feeling this the most. Apple is certainly not that concerned about the numbers; they’re printing money each quarter with iPhone sales, and I don’t think that the money generated by music sales from the iTunes Store makes that much of a difference on the company’s bottom line. But with a store as important as the iTunes Store, Apple needs to still sell music, if only to placate the music industry that Apple disrupted (or, according to some, saved).

Because of this, Apple doesn’t want you to go from the iTunes Store to Apple Music. If you browse the iTunes Store, looking for the latest hit, or a back-catalog album by an aging rock star, and you see a Stream button, you’re much less likely to buy the song or album. If you have an Apple Music subscription, then you’ll just stream it rather than buy it. Apple still needs to sell music, and I would expect that the major record labels would be quite irked if the iTunes Store had buttons that essentially told people not to buy music.

But there’s another issue, one that’s less obvious. The last number I heard about the iTunes Store was that it has 37 million “songs.” (Tracks is the word I’d use, because classical music doesn’t have songs.) But the Apple Music catalog only has around 30 million songs. There are lots of labels who aren’t present; to mention just two, the indie classical label Hyperion Records, and the jazz/classical label ECM, don’t stream their music, on Apple Music, or anywhere else. Add to that the fact that there are tracks you can’t stream on albums that are in the Apple Music library. I think that Apple simply doesn’t want you to have the experience of going to the iTunes Store, thinking that you can then stream anything you find, but discovering that lots of music isn’t available to stream.

Show in itunes storeI think this puts Apple in a difficult position. First, they need to keep selling music, but they also want to promote their streaming service. But they can’t appease all the players in the music business, so they’ve set up a pretty thick wall between the two. You can, as I pointed out in my earlier article, tap or click the … button to choose Show in iTunes Store, either in iOS or in iTunes. But you cannot go in the other direction. If you find something in the iTunes Store, you can’t get to it in Apple Music; Apple wants you to buy it, not stream it.