22 iTunes songs on your iPod

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.)

7 thoughts on “22 iTunes songs on your iPod

  1. 10 or less? Do you really think so? What about people who bought a few songs, and now they get the free song of the week every tuesday?

    I bought a 20 dollar iTunes card, exhausted it, and I now have 75 iTunes DRM songs from the free songs of the week.

  2. Ah, but those free songs are a bit special! Would you have tracked down those songs by those artists if they weren’t offered as a freebie? Almost definitely not. The DRM disincentive is more than trumped by the quick-and-free incentive for these songs, so I’d argue that they don’t really count for this debate.

    So your $20 iTunes card would mean that you have 20 purchased DRM songs on your iPod… Maybe Steve is right after all :-)

  3. Dave – I’m intrigued by your implied disconnect between ‘spare time’ and ‘buying music’, as if buying music is some annoyance that takes up spare time you could spend doing something else. You only need to walk into any good local record shop to see it full of people who are spending their spare time buying music. Whilst the convenience argument certainly holds true in some cases – my first iTMS purchase was something that I couldn’t track down via any other channels, I was drunk and wanted to hear it NOW – I still buy most of my music via more traditional methods because it’s as much the actual shopping experience I enjoy as owning the music…

  4. Tismey – interesting! So what benefit do you get in a music shop that you don’t get when browsing / buying online? On a web store, you can listen to any of the music instantly; you can view a lot more information about the music than you get on the back of a sealed CD case; and you can always go and search for more info and unbiased reviews about the music on the entire internet. What extra benefit does a physical music store give?

  5. “What extra benefit does a physical music store give?”

    C’mon – you’re deliberately being provocative, right? There are countless reasons for taking the physical route, not least of all the potential cost saving, the capacity to interract with other people, the better sound quality and the capacity to purchase things other than music.

    I have about 7 purchased DRM tunes in iTunes but have no iPod (plays MP3s on my phone instead), which I guess makes my figures either 7/0 or 0/150.

    We’re all abberations…

  6. I agree. Although I came up when CDs came out so I have thousands of songs I ripped into iTunes from CDs Ive purcahsed over the years. I guess some people still like the idea of having something tangible for their buck. Great site, helped me today on my MacBook Pro XP install…i just hope it doesnt infect the mactopious tranquility.

    Best,

    SHD

  7. Tbh I Really Dont Think Itunes Should Charge For Music Seen As Youve Already Paid For The Ipod I Mean I DOnt Mind Payin 20 Quid Or So Extra For Unlimited Songs But 79 Pence a Song :S

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