What 90-Second Song Previews Means for iTunes

What is a song preview? It is something we have become accustomed to as being a short sample of a song, which is provided as a way to entice users to purchase music. With Apple’s recent announcement to improve song samples to 90 seconds, however, it will nullify all things “short” that we think about a “sample.”

But on the surface this makes perfect sense. End users will have a more fulfilling idea of what they might be purchasing, so that must lead to more sales, right? Well, that might be the case (I certainly think so), but there could be some adverse effects.

But first, let’s get to the good news.

Why Longer Samples Could Be Good

As far as the music labels are concerned, longer previews could mean more potential listeners. Whereas people traditionally might have gone directly to a P2P or torrent site to simply download a song, longer previews could give users a reason to keep iTunes open a bit more and search for music to listen to. This, in turn, could lead to more interest and more sales. Either way, chances are pretty good that the music labels’ wallets would get fatter.

The artists, in turn, could also earn more money from sales. Although the music labels take a significant chunk of the artists’ money, more sales still equals more profits for the artist. They will get rich, one way or another.

Of course, Apple will also take their slice of the pie, too. After all, Apple wouldn’t force this issue if they believed it could actually hurt the company’s bottom line, so Apple must have a good feeling about this whole 90-second debate. What makes more money for the artists and labels also makes Apple money, and last time I checked, Apple is very good at making lots of money.

The end users who eventually make those labels and artists tons of money will also benefit from longer song previews. Users will get more enjoyment from the Apple Store, and that enjoyment and thought of instant gratification will lead to more purchases, which means the user will have the music they want to enjoy without having to go through other means to find it.

It’s potentially a win-win-win-win situation! What could go wrong?

Why It Could Be Bad

Well, there are some things that could not be so incredibly great as a result of the 90-second previews. While I don’t necessarily believe any of the following things will happen, it is certainly in the realm of possibility.

Labels could, in theory, lose money from people who opt not to purchase music on iTunes. Perhaps the longer previews would satisfy users enough who would have previously purchased the songs? It’s certainly a possibility. Also, if the aforementioned becomes reality, it could also hurt artists’ and Apple’s bottom line. That wouldn’t be so good.

In turn, the labels might demand more compensation from Apple (which would in turn be passed to the users) for these longer previews of content. We already know that the RIAA and the labels are as greedy as can be, so it should come as no shock if there is talks about how they could extract more money from people. This would, in theory, also affect how well Apple could perform and might lead to another situation where Apple threatens to stop selling music altogether.

Finally, as far as the labels are concerned, they could attempt to pull out of iTunes entirely. While this is one of the most extreme scenarios — not to mention they would need a suitable digital store replacement, which isn’t happening anytime soon — it is also a possibility in the future. Furthermore, Apple would have something to worry about if this was the case; however, this would take place so far in the future that it would have little to do with the 90-second previews at that point.

Future Trends

It’s already apparent that many consumers would prefer to demo entire songs before purchasing, similar to how Lala did it before Apple acquired the service; subscribe to an all-you-can-eat service that would give users all the music they want, which would hopefully be competitively priced; and have their music readily available on any device, without the silly DRM restrictions that prevent such a thing.

Interestingly, tomorrow is a big day for iTunes, as Apple has something big planned. Maybe these all of these scenarios will be answered. Maybe we will be blown away by what Apple has up its sleeves! Who knows?