Apple might pull the plug on iTunes music downloads

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Apple might start signing artists to contracts, in order to compete with the likes of Spotify. Photo: iTunes/Apple
Are iTunes Store's days numbered?
Photo: Apple

Update: Apple is denying a report that it plans to stop selling downloads within the next few years. “Not true,” Apple rep Tom Neumayr told Re/code Wednesday afternoon without elaborating.

Apple is planning to give iTunes music downloads the boot in as little as two years, according to sources currently working with the company.

With sales already falling, Apple will instead focus its efforts on persuading fans to stream tracks and albums through Apple Music.

When it first opened its doors 13 years ago, the iTunes Store revolutionized digital music downloads. It finally made it easy to instantly obtain tracks and albums legally, then sync them to your iPod, the world’s most popular music player at the time.

But after hitting a peak in 2012, iTunes song sales have been falling. Last year, they dropped 16 percent, according to industry analyst Mark Mulligan — and with the way things are going, they’ll fall another 25 to 30 percent in 2016.

Meanwhile, Apple is trying its hardest to make Apple Music a big success, and so it is already planning to push iTunes music downloads off the ship in favor of streaming.

Sources with “close and active business relationships with Apple” have told Digital Music News that Apple is currently toying with two plans: One will see iTunes aggressively killed off within two years, while the other will see it dwindle down slowly over three to four.

Mulligan says that by the end of this year, Apple Music should have 20 million subscribers. By 2020, it should have enough to generate just as much revenue as the iTunes Store was when it hit its peak four years ago.

But that’s not the only reason why Apple could kill music downloads. The sources say Apple is also concerned that it currently has too many music services, which are creating confusion for customers and leading to all kinds of problems — like supposedly deleting libraries.

It’s thought that when Apple does chop the iTunes Store, it could be staggered. For instance, the U.S. and the U.K., where music streaming is already thriving, could see it go first — while other markets, where streaming isn’t so popular, will have access to it for a little longer.

It seems highly unlikely now that this move is even being discussed within the walls of Cupertino. While iTunes sales may be falling, they’re still generating a significant sum of money every quarter that adds to Apple’s bank balance.