iTunes: Variable Pricing Was Cost of Over the Air Downloads?

iPhone vs. Big Media

What finally made Apple and Steve Jobs relent on their previously locked-in-stone $0.99 single price for single songs iTunes business model? Many suspected it was the lure of DRM-free music, which the record labels (except EMI) had been withholding from Apple and providing competitors like Amazon MP3 in an attempt to break the iTunes juggernaut.

Maybe not, however, according to Ars Technica (referencing the Associated Press):

the key negotiating component was over-the-air downloads for the iPhone. The record companies held out on allowing users to download songs on the 3G and EDGE networks (instead of just WiFi) until Apple relented.

While this might seem strange, technically many users probably don't care (or don't even know about DRM) unless they run into the old 5-machine limit or try to move their protected music outside the iPod ecosystem. However, anyone hitting the iTunes icon on the iPhone and getting the message to switch to WiFi likely suffers a bad user experience. Then again, strange is normal in a strange industry filled with strange old media dinosaurs, innit?

Higher prices, according to the article, are also intended to make discounted song bundles seem like better values.

How important is 3G or EDGE downloads to you? Worth the potential cost bump for premium "hot" singles? Mitigated at all by the thought of cheapo bundles of the same? Let us know!

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iTunes: Variable Pricing Was Cost of Over the Air Downloads?


Honestly if that is the reason for higher prices I think that's pretty stupid. Being able to buy music over the cellular network is nice but $1.29 for a song is just dumb. $1.29 is such an unwieldy price point. Gone is the days of picking up an $15 iTunes card and picking a nice round amount of 15 new singles.

I'm an ardent apple supporter but could really care less about downloads on 3g or the augmented price point. Even though Apple's music is DRM free it's still acc so I'll stick with Amazon for all my music. I also am still a believer in albums over singles so even if I shopped with Apple the 1.29 singles wouldn't make a difference

Remember, it's only $1.29 for "premium" songs. Still $0.99 for most songs and $0.79 for some old catalog titles. (Note: I've only ever seen $0.99 still).
Also, AAC is the linear successor to MP3, as more and more devices support it, there's no real difference (except AAC provides additional features like bookmarking, multiple artwork, etc.) iTunes will also convert to MP3 at the click of a button if you ever really need old tech versions. Personally, I prefer AAC at this point...

Unfortunately this DRM free thing is slowly ruining my life as I'm buying way to much music now. I agree with Rene, I also have still only seen 0.99$ songs so far, and them being AAC really is a better format, and is simple enough to convert from when necessary, and since the files are 256kps now, its not like you lose anything from making MP3 files as far as quality is concerned.

I like over the air downloads and have used it quite often now. I highly doubt it was the cause of the price increases though! Surely that related to either the bigger file sizes, or the DRM removal?

I thought new prices wouldn't be in place until end of Q1. Also, I d/l over p2p which is free so...

iTunes downloads over the air? yawn. eMusic downloads over the air and straight to my iPhone? Now that would be cool. Too bad it will never happen.

Well, they left the 10mb cap on podcast downloads, which, to me, is way more annoying. There are virtually NO podcasts smaller than 10mb, making it basically a no podcast downloads over the air rule. It's kind of insulting.

But how do you explain, the G1's ability to download music over the air and still keeping the same cheap prices from Amazon? Or are the G1 music downloads only via WiFi?

You can still stream them, no matter what the size. Just tap the title of the podcast and it will begin to play over 3G (or EDGE?)
Only slightly less annoying, sure, but remember AT&Ts 3G network is likely composed of rabbit ears on 2G antennas, and when/if they go down due to tons of downloads, people will be even more annoyed than not getting 10MB+

D'oh, address to FAIL. Sorry. I forwarded your question on to our Android Central team so they could see if there was a size-limit on OTA downloads.

The edge capability is awesome! When I can't think of a song or want to preview one, it's simple! In the car with friends, usually some one asks "what's that song by...?" And now I might buy more songs since I do not have the Internet for my MacBook or iMac at home.