One could reasonably guess, based on the history of Pandora
, and Google Play
, that Apple Music isn’t a particularly profitable part of Apple’s business. Even if Apple Music made money, if one considers the deals made with major labels, it’d be hard to imagine that this part of the business represents a significant revenue stream for a company that only a year ago was valued at over a trillion dollars. That’s what makes the rather persistent comparison between Apple Music and Spotify so bizarre. Apple Music is effectively just a nice way to expand Apple’s brand and get its awkward executives to rub shoulders with famous people
, while Spotify needs
to succeed at its core business. Apple Music is almost comically far away from the company’s core business.
Apple certainly doesn’t want to lose the entire music market to Spotify but there is very little the streaming platform is doing that remotely encroaches on Apple’s other businesses. Spotify isn’t looking to sell a phone, tablet, laptop, or even rent seek, as Apple can through increased digital phone storage or other “services”. There is little reason to view these companies as being on the same level at all, yet that’s been the entire narrative since the product’s launch in 2015 (Apple Music May Not Steal You from Spotify, but It Can Still Win the Streaming Battle
or Apple Music Launches to Take on Spotify – and Traditional Radio
). Commentators didn’t assume that Apple and Spotify were on equal ground, but framing a product launch in such a way obscures just how differently these companies view the products they’re selling.
The sheer scale of Apple can be applied to Amazon as well, where Amazon Music is once again often framed as a dark horse player in the realm of music streaming (see my own usage of this trope
). There is an understanding that for Amazon music is just a way to get consumers more interested in Amazon Echos and add a little bit more value to one’s Prime subscription. Considering that Amazon’s real way of bringing in money at this point is through Amazon Web Services, it’s similarly difficult not to see Amazon Music and its television/movie offerings as uninteresting brand extensions. Amazon absolutely does not need Amazon Music in order to be successful, but as with the commentary on the “battle” between Amazon and Google over home voice devices, there’s a strange assumption that consumers should care about whoever “wins”. The core products of voice assistants or music streaming platforms might have minor fandoms that prefer one product to another, but ultimately there is a massive company worth hundreds of billions of dollars that’s surveilling one’s living room and/or listening habits. That makes it difficult to conceive of how that competition could help the average consumer.
The last western company that operated at such an absurd scale was YouTube and its parent company Alphabet. Google tried to make music streaming work multiple times throughout the decade. YouTube Red failed, Google Play is now just folded into YouTube Music
, and does anyone remember YouTube Music Key
Google’s ability to hit reset on music streaming speaks to the fact that it doesn’t really matter whether or not a product is successful. It’ll certainly matter to the product teams and their own employment status, but when it comes to the company, it can just hit refresh if one attempt doesn’t work. YouTube’s user base is over two billion people, so there are too many players invested in the platform that it’ll always be striving for some money-generating solution.
Even this week, Bloomberg reported on YouTube Music allegedly reaching over 800,000 subscribers and headlined the article with the following: YouTube’s Music App Outpaces Spotify, Local Rivals in India
. Now, YouTube is used by over 200 million people in India but it cannot be shocking that it was able to peel off less than 0.5% to pay for the service. Last year, I wrote about Spotify’s prospects in India
with a particular eye towards YouTube and I thought it was ridiculous to imagine that Spotify would be able to enter the Indian market and find quick success among so many other entrenched companies. So far that’s bearing out due, once again, to the poor framing around Spotify’s ability to “compete” in a market where it arrived late, refrained from partnering with telcos, and just traded on a name brand.
Until 2019, Spotify’s decade worth of losses should’ve proven that the “competition” idea didn’t actually hold up under much scrutiny. If a company that was used by hundreds of millions of people across the globe couldn’t quite turn a profit, then how exactly is it competing with companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google? If Spotify were to become the largest, and perhaps even the sole, music streaming platform in the world, that wouldn’t even begin to poke at the core businesses of their competitors. This raises the question: If businesses are so oversized that it doesn’t actually matter who controls a market, then why care? Perhaps we shouldn’t forget about the consumers.