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?