The folks at Digital Music News have once again picked up the rumor that Apple's iTunes Store is one swan song away from closure. According to confidential sources, the publication claims the service may shut down by 2019; these appear to be the same sources that first spread the rumor back in May of 2016, which prompted Apple PR representative Tom Neumayr to give Recode a definitive "Not true."
9to5Mac received the same "It's not true" earlier on Monday after querying Apple reps about DMN's latest report, to which I say: Is anyone surprised?
Even if this oft-repeated rumor were true, you wouldn't hear it on-record from Apple's PR department: We'd see an official release from the company itself if and when it became necessary to shut down the store.
Regardless, I don't see that happening anytime soon. The iTunes platform may be bloated and confused, but the music store isn't the source of its problems; that has to do with software design and messaging.
Yes, streaming services are by and large how we get our digital audio these days. Whether you're listening to Apple Music or a podcast subscription service like Earwolf, the likelihood that you've purchased recordings of said audio has gone down significantly over the last decade.
But even if purchase numbers drop to nothing, Apple still has next to no incentive to shut down the music store. The company already has the basic infrastructure in place for selling worldwide, and will continue to use it as long as it sells TV shows, films, and ringtones; there's little extra cost to use that platform for music. Bandwidth, too, should be little issue, given that Apple by necessity keeps a repository of digital music for streaming courtesy its iCloud Music Library and iTunes Match service.
The biggest cost Apple might incur in this arena is licensing: We don't know whether Apple is negotiating separate licensing deals for streaming and purchasing with its record labels, or they're decided as one lump contract. If the former, it might behoove the company to find a way to negotiate both at once, but it's also not a deal-breaker.
Because, at the end of the day, the music store generates revenue. It may not generate the behemoth profit it once did, but as long as the music store is still profitable for Apple, it's still worth running.
There's also the consideration of international sales to be had: Many countries have yet to gain access to Apple Music. Without full subscription support, shutting off music sales could rob Apple of a vital toehold in the music industry of that country.
Here's what I think will happen: iTunes, as we know it, is dying. Apple has all but moved away from the "I" branding, and rightfully so. As it evolves in the modern music and television space, Apple needs to build a brand that supports that mission. The iTunes app on the Mac is a mess; the iTunes app on the iPhone has been shunted off to a corner.
I don't see the death of Apple's music store in the next few years. But I can see a day where Apple integrates its existing purchasing services into its streaming options. Stream this album for $9.99 a month, but if you want to own it? Press this button and this track is yours forever. You can see a very primitive version of this in action with Apple's movie rental business: While rentals are time-limited in a way that subscription services are not, it still hooks into two very different frameworks while giving a seamless end-result to users.
Could Apple get rid of music sales someday? Sure. But right now, we've got quite a few more milestones to hit before that's a reality — and I don't see them happening by 2019.