Steve Jobs’s Thoughts on Music article makes for a good read. But I don’t believe that anyone has 22 [tag]iTunes[/tag] Store songs on their [tag]iPod[/tag], any more than they have 2.4 children. And this is a pretty significant fact.
Obviously, Steve isn’t claiming that we all have this magic number of songs on our iPods. What he actually says is:
Through the end of 2006, customers purchased a total of 90 million iPods and 2 billion songs from the iTunes store. On average, that’s 22 songs purchased from the iTunes store for each iPod ever sold.
Today’s most popular iPod holds 1000 songs, and research tells us that the average iPod is nearly full. This means that only 22 out of 1000 songs, or under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a [tag]DRM[/tag].
A convincing use of stats, there. But what this average doesn’t tell us is the distribution of those 2 billion songs. Do most people have about 22? Or, as I think is more likely the case, do most people have 10 or fewer, and some people have lots and lots?
From a quick straw poll of iPod owning friends, most seem to have between 1 and 15 purchased songs, and most tend to err on the lower side of that range.
And then there’s me. I have bought 750 tracks from the iTunes Store since it launched. Perhaps I’m an abberation. But at some key point over the past few years, my music buying habits changed to the point that I buy new music from iTunes in preference. Simply because it’s easier. I don’t like the idea that I’m an abberation, and I think this is a trend that would be found across all iPod owners. We can be categorised as those that buy all their music from iTunes – and those that don’t.
And here’s the key. What the iTunes store has done is to change some people’s buying habits, such that they now buy all their music as DRM’d content from iTunes. Their habits have changed, simply because iTunes it’s the easiest way to do it.
Pretty much everyone sees their spare time as important – and time is worth more than just money. Since acquiring music takes time as well as cash, the balance between time required and financial outlay is a fine one. Most people will take the path of least resistance most of the time, so convenience is crucial.
For music, the iTunes Store has found that balance for a growing number of people. It is so convenient and quick that the DRM doesn’t present enough of a downside to put people off. For others, DRM is still a barrier – perhaps on principle, perhaps because of their choices of audio player – and so iTunes doesn’t yet offer that most convenient route.
As a friend pointed out to me recently, it depends largely on the kind of music you listen to. Current trashy chart pop is very easy to download (illegally) via Acquisition. Because so many people want it, so many people have it, and you can find and download a copy in seconds. So people do it, illegally, simply because it’s quick and easy. It may be free, but it’s time-free, too.
Try to do the same for (as my friend puts it) “good” music, and it’s not so easy. Whilst you can still find less popular music on Acquisition, the very nature of peer-to-peer networks means less popular content takes more time to acquire. The whole process is less reliable, and just isn’t as easy. It may be free, but it still costs in time.
So if I’m right, and the average iPod isn’t so average, what does Steve’s well-written epistle mean for music buying habits? Removing DRM from the iTunes store may not make any difference for those users who just want popular music, as if Acquisitioning is just as quick as paying, then why would people pay? But for those users who have wider music tastes, and who historically don’t mind paying for music, the removal of DRM may be the change that makes iTunes as acceptable as a CD (and quicker than going to the shops). And if that leads to more purchases for the record labels, and fewer illegal downloads, then surely that can only be a good thing?
(For more detail on Steve’s other comments, I’d definitely recommend John Gruber’s excellent Reading Between the Lines of Steve Jobs’s ‘Thoughts on Music’ article.)