Goodbye Downloads. Apple No Longer Lets You Link To iTunes Store


Man, Apple is hurting. Sources say that Apple Music will only have 3.5 million subscribers after November cancellations (15 million initially signed up for the trial period beginning June 30th).  Spotify projects they will reach 100 million users by year’s end. Even Jay Z’s Tidal, which everyone in the industry had pretty much given up on, has a million paying subscribers.

So how is Apple looking to win over new streaming customers?  By making a better product than the rest?  Nope!  Apple Music’s UI is a disaster.  Not only is it cluttered and completely nonintuitive, it messes up users’ owned music library.  Some genius at Apple (pun intended) thought to combine the new Apple Music streaming service with people’s personal music libraries that everyone had taken great pains to curate, customize and purchase over the years.  Music fans worldwide put their trust into Apple.  And why wouldn’t they?  The iTunes music library, player and store used to be fantastic.  The best.  Same with the iPod, iPad and the iPhone.  Everything ‘just worked.’

But in the post-Jobs Apple dystopia, nothing seems to work.  One glance at Apple products like Numbers and Pages (Apple’s versions of Microsoft Excel and Word) in the App Store is all it takes to see the downfall.  They each have about 2 stars (out of 5). And all the “most helpful” reviews are frustrated former Apple fans venting about how these products just don’t work anymore and are getting worse and worse with every update.  The Apple Watch is similarly flawed, frustrating Apple loyalists everywhere.  When Apple jumped from Final Cut Pro 7 to Final Cut Pro X, it alienated every professional film maker using the program.  You can’t access the web from Apple TV and it doesn’t come with Amazon (to stream Transparent) or Spotify (yeah, yeah, they’re competitors, but you can get both on the iPhone and iPad).

Apple Maps was a disaster. Apple Music is worse.

You can’t wait this long to get into the streaming field and then drop the ball so hard.  So, how is Apple now trying to get users to signup for their horribly flawed new streaming service?  By changing every new and existing iTunes link to point to Apple Music instead of iTunes.

I know you’re probably screaming, ‘why would Apple intentionally inhibit sales for their most profitable digital product?!’  Well Apple has the cash for this investment.  They know streaming is the future of the music industry whether people stream on Apple or not.  Apple is so late to the game, they are trying desperate measures.  Spotify has worked its way into music’s vernacular and has become the generic term for streaming.  Kleenex, Q-tips, Ziploc and now, Spotify.

iTunes owns downloads. Spotify owns streaming.

I understand why Apple is pushing their new product so hard, but what they clearly don’t realize (or care) is many indie artists still rely on iTunes revenue to pay their bills.  Yes digital download purchases are shrinking monthly, but Apple is helping usher them off the cliff once and for all.

Streaming has the potential to make artists more money in the long run.  But definitely not in the short term.  At least not yet.  And definitely not for indie artists who aren’t pulling in the superstar streaming numbers and didn’t get massive advances from the streaming services (like major labels enjoyed).

iTunes is still the most popular music store in the world.  Sure downloads are slipping, but they’re not gone just yet.  In 2014, there were over a billion iTunes downloads.  And there will be nearly as much this year.

Now, when you click a desktop link to an iTunes download, Apple will reroute you to the song in Apple Music, urging you to sign up.

There’s no “No Thanks” or “Skip” button, which then takes you to the download you are looking to buy.  If you choose not to join Apple Music, that’s it.  You have to click over to the iTunes Store, then type the artist’s name or song title in the search field and sift through the results.  Every marketing expert knows that the more clicks required at point of sale, the less likely a sale will happen.

Visit any musician’s website from superstar to local band and they will most likely have a link to iTunes.  Go click it from your desktop.  See what happens.

YouTubers who get millions of views a month (but have no label giving them an advance, no interest in touring and no merch to sell), depend on iTunes revenue.  Yes, it’s disappearing.  Yes, YouTubers (and all artists) are finding alternative revenue sources during this transition period (via Sponsorships, Patreon, BandCamp, PledgeMusic and BandPage), but let the transition happen naturally.

This is like heading down to Amoeba Music, bringing a CD to the checkout counter only to have the clerk slap you across the face, confiscate the CD, make fun of you for spending money on a dying format and then proceed to sell you a subscription to their music club you have no interest in being a part of.

Yes, streaming is the future.  Yes, it’s inevitable.  Yes, in the long run, it is better for the music industry.  But, for godsake, let people pay if they still want to!

**Update: A current hack to bypass Apple Music is to use You can customize your links and select if you’d like the user to be taken to Apple Music or iTunes (or Amazon/Google Play/BandCamp if they are on Android). Unfortunately YouTube does not allow smarturl (or links in annotations or Cards, so YouTubers will just have to settle for putting them in the description for now (like Pharrell did). 

**Update: It seems Apple’s new El Capitan OS update correctly routes iTunes links to iTunes store. Anyone running Apple’s previous operating systems still get routed to Apple Music.