Why song samples on iTunes didn’t increase to 60 seconds

Wed, Sep 8, 2010


A few days before last weeks media event, CNET reported that the preview samples for songs on iTunes were poised to double in length from 30 seconds to 1 minute. All in all, such a move seemed like a no-brainer given that one can’t always discern if a song is worth purchasing after listening to a randomly selected 30 second clip.

But Apple’s media event came and went, and there was nary a mention of iTunes song samples. Now, CNET is following up on their initial story and reports that last minute licensing issues caused Apple to change course at the zero hour.

“We are in active negotiations with Apple,” about the length of song samples, said Hanna Pantle, a spokeswoman for Broadcast Music Inc., (BMI) one of the performing-rights organizations that collects royalties on behalf of songwriters and music publishers. She declined to provide any details.

Interestingly, the report details how Apple’s licensing agreement with ASCAP doesn’t put any time constraints on music samples. Moreover, Apple has reportedly already inked agreements with the 4 major record labels to increase the sample length of iTunes songs up to 90 seconds.

So what happened to the expected announcement?

Even with all the labels on board, Apple didn’t have all the licenses iTunes needed. Leaders at the National Music Publishers Association, the largest trade trade group representing music publishers, informed Apple that it couldn’t offer extended samples until reaching an agreement with them. But that’s not the whole story. Some from the music sector say Apple simply tried to rush a deal through and misjudged its ability to get a deal done without agreements from all the necessary parties. Apple has made it clear that it doesn’t want to pay to license song samples, insiders say, and even they acknowledge that Apple also wants to avoid the nightmare that other music services have gone through when trying to obtain licenses from untold numbers of rights holders.

And so the murky and often nonsensical world of musical licensing rears its ugly head yet again. You would think that with iTunes as the #1 music retailer that record labels would want longer music samples to encourage more music downloads. Again, there have been plenty of times where I’ve listened to a 30 second song sample on iTunes without much of a reaction only to find out when I hear the song in its entirety that I’m actually a fan. The music industry is all about money (hence all the intricate licensing issues and organizations outlined above) and longer song samples are something that not only Apple should be pushing for, but the record labels themselves.

Greg Sandoval of CNET concludes:

So some publishers want Apple to pay for samples, and Apple has refused to make such an agreement, arguing that a 30-second sample is promotional. What Apple and the publishers have to determine is, what happens when a song sample is 60 seconds or 90 seconds long?



2 Comments For This Post

  1. AKorell Says:

    “Moreover, Apple has reportedly already inked agreements with the 4 major record labels to increase the sample length of iTunes songs up to 90 seconds.”

    “You would think that with iTunes as the #1 music retailer that record labels would want longer music samples to encourage more music downloads.”

    Why are you directing ire at the major labels when you’ve already stated that they’ve signed on? Obviously, the major labels are not the only rights holders involved in the negotiations.

  2. Bob Beland Says:

    I am a musician, songwriter (BMI), publisher (Bob On Bob Music)
    label owner (Seeing i Records, Wrong Way Works) and ex- independent sales rep for
    many music distributors over the years (SONY/RED, Western, Passport, Burnside, USS&M).
    Back then the major players of the retail music business were Tower Records, Virgin Ent., Wherehouse, Music +, and many indie stores. All my accounts. All long gone.

    What killed them all was simple.
    They could not give customers access to their inventory to hear and explore.

    That system made it impossible. So in many cases people bought recorded music on impulse or by the influence of media -Radio, TV & Movies.
    In other words, once the consumer HEARD the song they were influenced enough to get in their car and drive miles to the record store and hopefully buy a copy, IF the store had it in stock.
    I always thought that it was a nutty way to sell music and I was right. Record stores were like giant silent mausoleums of music with only the store music player playing one record to hear. Everything else in the store is silent. In a MUSIC store, everything IN the store is silent. Nuts, isn’t it?
    In hindsight it’s amazing it ever became a successful industry. So when Steve Jobs & iTunes came along and gave consumers instant access to his music store 24/7 365 with the ability to listen to a sample of ANYTHING in the store well, it was like iTunes was the meteor and the record stores were the dinosaurs.

    The old school way of selling records was to get Radio airplay ( be heard) and tour
    (be seen & heard) and coordinate the distribution of your record with the retail
    stores in those areas.
    iTunes has the ability to do almost all of that under one roof. Letting the artist promote their music better by exposing the listener to it in it’s entirety and giving them the ability to purchase that song at that same time streamlines the whole music experience for the consumer – listen & buy all at once. That should equate to higher revenues for both iTunes, Music Labels and the artists.
    Could anyone have “gotten” “Good Vibrations” or “Stairway To Heaven” in 30 seconds? Not me. Full exposure will mean better sales for all around and for a better shopping experience for music consumers.
    A fully realized concept in my view is for the artists & labels to be able to use their own recordings as “listening booths” for on line music consumers and that the retail end (iTunes) should be able to supply a complete representation of that recording.
    Let the recording sell the song to the consumer just like radio used to do.
    iTunes has the ability to do that under one roof. Any on line retail music store that sells downloads has that ability as well.
    The fact that iTunes sells advertising may complicate things with performance rights organizations like BMI & ASCAP, whose job it is to collect from whatever media that uses recorded music to sell advertising; t.v. radio, cable.
    My thought is if a retailer such as iTunes is using an artist’s recorded work to specifically & exclusively promote the sale that artist’s own work then it seem like the artist would be collecting upon himself if revenue had to be procured from iTunes for performance royalties purposes from either BMI or ASCAP.
    Without that performance opportunity the download of the song will just sit there dormant like CDs & records did in record stores back in the old days. Only this time it will be in iTunes instead of Tower Records.
    I’m all in favor for offering complete representations or “samples” of artists recordings to help sell their audio downloads in stores such as iTunes.

    Bob Beland
    Mar Vista, CA

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