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While Apple has denied a report that it was planning to stop selling music downloads in either two years or 3-4 years, the denial to Re/code was somewhat vague.

Apple rep Tom Neumayr wouldn’t expand on [the ‘not true’] comment, except to make it clear that he was responding to both timelines proposed in today’s story from Digital Music News.

And really, nobody should be surprised if the broader report is true: that Apple has discussed how and when it might exit the music download business …

Downloads have been gradually declining for several years now. Music giant Warner reported almost a year ago to the day that streaming revenue had exceeded downloads, and just last week streaming overtook downloads and physical sales combined. Music sales are a declining business.

The two-year timescale, however, was ridiculous. While downloads may be falling, they are still currently a massive component, and Apple is the undisputed market leader. It is clearly not going to abandon a huge and lucrative business any time soon.

Nor are many consumers ready to switch from owning their music to renting it. You have only to read the comments on yesterday’s report to see that – even among the techy readership we have here – that’s still a step too far for many.

I want to own my music, not have to rent it for the rest of my life.

If I can’t buy downloadable music from itunes I’ll buy it from someone else.

Many of us don’t want to rent our music.

But many younger music fans have already made that switch. Indeed, some can’t understand why anyone would bother owning music when you can simply play it on demand.

A year ago, I was on the fence. I didn’t feel ready to make the switch, yet felt that my insistence on owning music was somewhat irrational. I wondered whether Apple Music would be the point at which I’d stop buying music. One year later, I can report that the answer appears to be yes. I haven’t ever formalized that in my mind as a decision, but the fact is that, since subscribing to Apple Music, I haven’t actually downloaded any additional music.

So while the timescales reported in the Digital Music News piece may be highly unrealistic, I don’t doubt for a moment that a company as forward-looking as Apple has indeed held internal meetings in which it discussed a move it will almost certainly make at some point in the future.

Music downloads will likely exist forever, but there will come a point when they are a niche market, and Apple doesn’t really do niche. When that day finally arrives, Apple will – as it did with floppy drives, optical drives, legacy ports, and as it probably plans to do with the 3.5mm headphone jack – move on.


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About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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