Wednesday, April 26, 2006


itunes the user experience

Itunes a complementor for the Ipod: Apple is pretty open about their low profit per song. And it is pretty clear to see that they are using Itunes to drive Ipod sales (and vice versa). Given that the Itunes software and delivery model is likely all fixed costs, the costs associated with additional songs sold by Itunes are material costs and paid directly to the record labels (online delivery = small fulfillment costs). We can then conclude that Itunes is a volume game and once Apple covers their fixed costs, every song become pure profit. The more songs Apple sells the more money they make. There is some evidence that they have a affiliation program and do pass along a payment to websites that refer people to specific songs or albums. I am sure that the sale needs to be made in order for Apple to pay.

So what do they do to sell more songs? First, they have embedded the store into the Itunes player. The Itunes webpage requires that Itunes be installed locally. Due to the proprietary nature of the download file, this makes a lot of sense.

Once you get Itunes up and running you notice that the music management software and the store are intertwined. The newest version of the store even has a ministore that rises from the bottom of the screen and offers "advertisements".

The main page of the store is loaded with band and album ads. You can also very quickly find the top selling songs (they list 10 but you can get to the top 100) and the top albums. If you are looking for something they offer a simple search and a power search. In a very creative move, the simple search is part of the main application and can be used to search you music collection when not visiting the music store. When performing a search the results will include any matching music, podcast, audiobook or video.

Once you find a artist the screen splits in the middle. The upper half lists artist information and the bottom half lists the songs (with title, album, time, and price) available for that artist.

The artist information includes the following:
We will come back to Imixes in a bit but first I want to mention three other functions listed in the artist section: gift this music, artist alert, tell a friend. These (plus Imixes and customer reviews) are the foundation for the burgeoning social network. Both gift this music and tell a friend enable one customer to share with others. Using the artist alert a user can tell Itunes that they are interested in hearing when new tracks are added. The new music Tuesday list is for users who want to know what music is release each week. Using these functions Apple has begun to tie themselves to their customers and their customers with each other.

The Imixes: These things are pretty cool. Any user can create a playlist in their itunes and export it to the itunes store. I think I saw that there are currently over 333,000 Imixes. Basically the Imix gives a user the opportunity to create their own album (or movie soundtrack if you prefer). Once you find an Imix you like you can view and purchase the songs. You can also view other Imix by the same user. And if you really liked it, you could share it with your friends. In a nut shell, Imixes give the user the opportunity to build lists of songs and share them with the community.

Celebrity Playlists: They offer a similar functionality to the Imixes but they are created by celebrities and include a description of how they feel about the song.

Itunes Essentials: Itunes has created their own recommended song lists and published them to the site as the "Essentials".

Itunes Originals: In addition to the Essentials, Itunes offers the Originals series. These seem to be live recordings and possibly unreleased or remixed songs.

Billboard Charts: Itunes also offers the Billboard listings for the Hot 100, Country and R&B. Once within the listings you can purchase the songs. The trouble that I see is that while the charts go back to the 1940's, they stop at 2004 and don't reflect the current charts.

Radio Charts: In contrast, Itunes offers the Radio Chart listings which appear to be more current. We don't have an indication of when they are from but I quickly scanned the 9 radio stations for the Boston area and the songs looked current. But I just noticed the note that said the Radio Charts were powered by Mediabase and were copyright 2004. It would be awesome if they could go real time and reflect the current rotation of the radio station.

Customer Reviews: Much like Amazon, Itunes offers users the ability to review albums. There doesn't seem to be a capacity to rate songs directly (unless it is a single). The big problem here is that the Itunes reviews aren't nearly as good as the Amazon reviews. This could be due to the younger age range of many of the customers. Or it could be that the lower price point doesn't elicit much care when entering a review. In contrast a $50 - $60 item from Amazon might inspire a more well thought out comment. Much like Amazon, Itunes provides users the opportunity to rate the reviews. In the Itunes case, a user is allowed to indicate whether or not the review was "helpful". When checking reviews you can filter by the helpful indication.

Conclusion:It seems like Apple has done the best they can with their community. In the most current version of Itunes, Apple introduced the Mini Store. I will discuss the mini store in another post but I would like to mention briefly that the MiniStore does point out bands that are similar to the band that you have clicked in the Itunes Library.

In trying to tie this together, Apple has introduced a number of key community building functions into their software. They have enabled users to provide preferences (Artist Alert). They have enabled users to interact with each other (customer reviews, imixes, tell a friend and gift this music). They have provided suggestions for other songs to check out (listeners also bought). They release new music every Tuesday and notify people of the new songs via email.

The most current social networking concept that we talked about in class they don't offer is tagging. Tagging would enable them to create user defined searches. Currently the closest they come is through allowing people to search (power search) for genres. There are two limitations in the power search. First the return list is limited to 150 songs. Second some songs could be in multiple genres and the Apple database may not be able to recognize both. Tagging would enable users to custom define key searches and possible create a more robust search process.

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