I Paid for iTunes Match. What's Next?

Probably nothing; I can hope though, and I hope to see Apple add a second tier.

With the release of iTunes Match Apple managed to capture recurring revenue from previously-purchased music, regardless of where that music came from and at what time it was purchased. The move was, and still is, brilliant. Since that release nearly two years ago I have given Apple forty dollars for the continued use of iTunes Match, another example illustrating the genius behind the idea: Apple made a customer of me, someone who otherwise would not have contributed even a fraction of that forty dollars to the iTunes revenue statement. I did not start writing this article strictly to praise Apple though; I began writing it to propose the next logical move.

When my subscription to iTunes Match comes up for renewal in October, I will shell out another twenty dollars to Apple in exchange for another twelve months of iTunes Match. In all likelihood, I will continue to do this well in to the future, as I am sure many others will too. No matter how you look at it, iTunes Match is a very stable source of recurring revenue, albeit a small one. Which brings me to my proposition: add a second tier to iTunes Match for an increased annual fee that would allow subscribers to download even higher quality, 320kbps versions of their music. Audiophiles, rejoice.

Realistically, this new offering would not provide any noticeable increase in sound quality; realistically, the only increase subscribers of this new, second tier could consistently and un-qualitatively experience would be much greater file sizes, and very few will be excited at that prospect. But there would still be some nontrivial number that do subscribe for twenty-five, thirty, or possibly even thirty-five dollars — as the price of this second tier approaches forty dollars I become increasingly circumspect that any significant number of people would find the tradeoff worthy — and the company will make close to twice as much money on those individuals than they do already.

In my mind, this scenario is very similar to the announcement of the 128GB iPad 4: a small number of people will buy one, an even smaller portion actually require the ridiculous storage space, the cost to produce these devices will be a negligible increase over the other iPad models, and Apple will make a killing on and every each sale. Adding a second tier to iTunes Match would allow Apple to address the underserved audiophile market who now rely on CDs to obtain 320kbps tracks. Like the aforementioned iPad model, few would actually subscribe, even fewer would use the service to its full potential either knowingly or simply for lack of storage space, incurred costs would be negligible — after all, it’s not as if Apple does not have access to these tracks, it merely does not currently have a motive to make them available — and the company would make a killing off of each subscriber.

And if simply offering high-quality versions of already-matched songs is not enough of an incentive to attract new users and entice existing subscribers to upgrade, what about enabling song metadata replacement? The mere existence of Music Brainz Picard and iTunes Match Tagger, to name two of the more popular services and my personal favorites for the job, obviate the need for such a service. And given that Apple already accurately identifies the majority of the music in my library for iTunes Match and already replaces the files on my computer, the addition of this feature should be relatively easy.

That’s the genius of these two ideas, if I may toot my own horn for a moment: both inarguably major new features would piggyback on existing architecture. Distributing high-quality versions of already-matched songs would be as easy as flipping the bit limiting the bitrate cap from 256kbps to 320kbps; as I said earlier, it’s not as if Apple does not have access to these songs, it merely does not have any reason to make them publicly available. Similarly, replacing existing metadata with correct information would be as easy as refusing to store a song’s existing metadata before replacing the local file with the iTunes version.

Looking from the outside in, neither of these features appear to be particularly difficult to implement; the only question, then, is whether or not Apple will choose to further this product; and if so, when?