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Apple Music Still Feels Like a Beta Test

Apple Music’s free trial period just ended. The company won’t say how many subscribers it’s got, and it won’t extend the free offer; the rights-holders won’t allow that. (Those who haven’t yet tried out the service still qualify for the three-month trial, gratis, but more on that, later.)

So what have we learned?

Apple was afraid of being late, and it launched a beta product.

But the truth is, it’s still early. And an opportunity was blown.

Apple was never going to be first. YouTube owns free music streaming, and Spotify owns paid music streaming, though most people are not paying. It’s hard to say whether they’ll ever pay, be it to Google/YouTube, Spotify or Apple. But there is a first-mover advantage. And if you’re not first, you’d better get it right. That was the essence of the iPod. But not Apple Music.

Instead of launching a cutting-edge music service, Apple was so busy trying to involve the rear-guard that it ended up with a platform that pleased nobody: Apple Music ain’t good for streaming, and it ain’t good for files. Pick a lane.

How could the company get it so wrong?

It’s so hard to start anything these days — there’s so much noise — that you’ve got to double down, be innovative, and entice people. Connect is an antiquated concept that is not only unnecessary, the acts didn’t adopt it and neither did the listeners.

Moreover, the service itself is hard to use. Apple is just now putting out how-to videos, the kind that it should have had when Apple Music debuted. It was like launching the Mac without a manual.

And now, the 90 days are up, and I’m not paying.

First impressions count. How are you gonna get all those people back to Apple Music — the ones who signed off last month, and the ones who’ll sign off in another month when they’re surprised by the bill?

And there’s the irony. Apple didn’t want to pay the acts for the trial period, and now, even if it got smart and offered to pay them so that it could offer consumers a freemium tier, the rights holders wouldn’t agree. Unlike tech companies, the labels and publishers are not interested in waiting to cash in.

But the music customer isn’t amused, having to hear acts complaining about royalties when fans are overpaying for concert tickets and merch. A successful act is making more money now than at any other time in the history of the music business, albeit less from recordings, and the customer is struggling to make rent. So now Apple wants the public to just jump up and pay for streaming?

Fahgettaboudit.

Yet the last chapter has not been written on streaming music, if for no other reason than most people are not subscribing. There’s a lot of runway still available, which means Apple’s still got a chance. Hell, there are tons of people who never signed up for the 90-day trial.

Apple must find a way to get trial subscribers to come back. A free month as a Christmas gift would be a good idea.

But they’ve got to fix the product first. Failed technology went out with the 20th century. We expect everything to work right out of the box, and if it doesn’t we abandon it.

I wonder if anybody in Cupertino is smart enough to make it right.

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