We noted at the end of last year that iTunes music downloads appeared to be on the decline for the first time, a shift that was confirmed this month. The operating assumption has so far been that music streaming services are taking over, and that a growing number of consumers are now content to simply have on-demand access to music, rather than to own it.

Asymco’s Horace Dediu, an analyst who often has interesting things to say, has suggested an alternative explanation: that we’re actually listening to less music … 

His argument is that we all have limited time, and the more time we spend using apps, the less time we have available for other activities, like listening to music.

Consumers have a fixed time budget, a more rigid constraint than their spending budget. Competition for a slice of a consumer’s time budget is far tougher than competition for a slice of a consumer’s wallet. So what’s amazing is that apps have successfully grabbed a share of this time budget.

I’m not sure I entirely buy this reasoning: listening to music is something we can do alongside other activities. I’m sure many of us have music playing while we use apps. I suspect the rise in the popularity of streaming music is the main factor at play here.

But what struck me as interesting about Dediu’s argument is that what may not be true for music almost certainly is true for other media: web, TV and movies. While some may have the TV on in the background while doing other things – a pet hate of mine – you can’t really pay full attention to both that and a game, or to that and a creative app. Time, or perhaps more accurately attention invested in an app is attention lost to other media.

I thus think his core argument – that publishers and broadcasters should worry less about shifting music formats and more about apps – is spot on.

This is the insidious march of a disruptor. It gains a foothold in a context where it has no competition and then relentlessly gets better, eventually displacing the far better suited alternatives. This is what I believe is happening with apps. They are asymmetric in their competition with established media and as a result they are easily ignored and brushed off as irrelevant competition. That is until the incumbent media sees a sudden drop in consumption.

Via Fortune

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11 Responses to “Apps, rather than streaming music, may be responsible for ‘peak iTunes’ – analyst”

  1. Well it depends on the kind of an app. If you play game there are usualy sounds and it will turn the music off, same of course with Youtube, TV on your mobile device etc. These are all activities unseen before.


  2. sardonick says:

    I listen to less music because I have to work more in this economy and have less time to fool around. It’s what happens when adulthood rears its ugly head.


  3. John Cox says:

    I don’t download music anymore, because I use iTunes Match and stream my music via the cloud.


  4. Mike Connor says:

    I rarely purchase music because there isn’t any good new music for my tastes. I’m sure the mid-30’s alternative/metal fan isn’t the key demographic targeted by record companies, but those that seemingly are their priority (13 year old girls?) direct more of their attention (and dollars) toward other options that simply weren’t available to previous generations (social media and apps being the two biggest examples). The videogame industry has also grown significantly over the past decade, which is another entertainment option that draws attention and dollars away from music. So Dediu’s opinion is certainly part of the equation, though not all of it.


  5. If you are a fan of hip hop like me, then you are definitely listening to less music cause that genre has gone to sh!t.


  6. Mark Choi says:

    You provide your own counter to your argument. If people are listening to music in the background because of time constraints, they are FAR less likely to pay a monthly fee to stream this music, since it holds so little of their attention. Instead, they are far more likely to forgo the monthly fee and simply listen to the music they already own.


    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      If that were so, I’d personally expect it to work the other way around: pay a small monthly sum to stream music rather than buy it. I have an opinion-piece in mind to explore this more generally later.


  7. Well I personally think that we “USED” to Lusten to Music but Now with Music Based Streaming Services, such as Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody, SONY’s Music Unlimited, and well MOG people are actually having access to more music with a Classified and Organized Library rather than having to use additional software to classify your music. In addition to that you have the classic “playlists” which are incorporated in all these music services. Also Spotify has something called Spotify Apps which are made Exclusively for Spotify. So People are actually listening to MORE Music cause now they have the Freedom to access all to most of the music they want to listen to.