Most People Simply Don’t Care Enough About Music to Pay for Streaming

With the end of the three-month Apple Music trial coming up next week (for those who signed up on the first day), music industry and Apple executives are wondering how many people will continue paying for this service. According to the New York Post, 15 million people have signed up for this free trial, but half of them have turned off auto-renewal, signaling that they are not willing to pay for it.

While that still leaves 7.5 million people, I would not be surprised if many of these people signed up to try out Apple Music for a short time, and simply forgot to turn off auto-renewal. These people will see a $10 payment in October, and many of them will seek refunds.

Nevertheless, this still leaves several million people were willing to pay for Apple Music.

A Nielsen study highlighted by Digital Music News suggests, however, that only 9% of people in the United States are likely to pay for streaming music in the next six months. 78% of people polled are “somewhat/very unlikely” to pay for streaming music, with 13% of people still on the fence.

As Digital Music News points out:

That raises very serious questions on whether paid streaming subscription rates have already plateaued.

The article also points out that the most popular streaming music service remains YouTube, which is totally free, and rife with pirated music.

I think people in the music industry miss something very important. Most people simply don’t care very much about music. They may want to listen to a few of the latest hits, and they will do so on the radio, or with an ad-supported streaming service such as Spotify, or on YouTube. For the most part, these people use music as wallpaper. They are not music fans. The percentage of people who care enough about music to want to pay even $10 a month is clearly very small.

The Nielsen survey pointed out the three most common reasons why people would not pay for a streaming music service. It is too expensive, they can get music for free, and they won’t use the service enough to get value for their money. In an era where people will happily drop $20 on a Blu-ray of a new movie, or five dollars or more for a cup of insipid coffee, it seems paradoxical that $10 a month is too much to pay for music. Nevertheless, I think the reasoning is very different for subscription service than it is for one-off purchases. Since these occasional listeners can get music for, it makes no point to pay anything at all for it.

Another metric that is very important is how many people will will pay for Apple Music are doing so while deserting another streaming service, such as Spotify. The music industry is hoping that the overall number of subscribers to streaming music services will increase, but we simply don’t know if this will be the case. (Naturally, there are a number of serious music fans that won’t pay for streaming because they want to own music, but I’d guess that’s a fairly small percentage of people.)

But there may be other variables preventing people from paying for streaming music. For example, if you listen to music a lot on a mobile device, and your cell phone plan does not allow you to use a lot of data, then you will certainly not pay to stream music that will eat up all your data. If you had to pay, for example, another $10 a month to increase your data allowance, along with the $10 for Apple Music or Spotify, that doubles your cost to $20 a month.

Some mobile phone providers offer plans where data used by a specific streaming music service is not counted. This type of offer could certainly help tip the balance for many people who are on the fence, but the Nielsen study still suggests that nearly 80% of people will never pay for streaming music.

Music simply isn’t important to enough people to make them to pay for it. Perhaps a subscription price of five dollars a month could attract more listeners, but even that isn’t a given. Expecting the masses to pay for music is simply a delusion.

20 thoughts on “Most People Simply Don’t Care Enough About Music to Pay for Streaming

  1. I agree that the percentage of people who will pay for streaming music is likely small. In addition to the reasons you mentioned, here are two more.

    1. I don’t have a large iTunes library, but it is “well curated”, meaning that it matches my musical tastes. I listen to music from my library several hours each day, and I know that I will hear songs that I enjoy. This removes some desire to pay money to a streaming service in order to listen to pretty much the same songs. I also listen to Pandora to be exposed to new material, but if I like the news songs that I hear, I’m probably more likely to just buy the new tracks.

    2. I dislike subscriptions. Whether it’s for streaming music, magazines, Office 365, or anything else. I prefer to buy up front and be done, rather than signing up for a recurring payment. I know this is not logical, as the subscription model often is cheaper. It’s more psychological, I guess. But I don’t think I’m alone on this. Conversations with friends suggests that at least some others feel the same way. Maybe there are a lot of us.

    • Point 1 taken. As for point 2, I’m sure there are some people who feel that way, but see the comment below about how many subscriptions that person has. It is psychological, but there is a valid reason for the subscription model.

  2. I find this to be a pretty offensive conclusion, Kirk. I rarely watch TV and listen to music (a lot of different types, including classical) all day long. I’ve paid thousands of dollars for great seats at a lot of concerts. To state that people who won’t pay for streamed music don’t care much about music is just plain myopic. I own a huge music library, a lot of it in at least 3 different formats. I’ve spent a lot in the iTunes Store. Why should I pay for streaming? Apple is trying to force-feed us. I resist being force-fed anything.

    By the way, Kindle Unlimited wants me to spend $10 a month on “free books” that are removed if I discontinue the service, which I did. Apple Music already removes music even if we continue to pay. I pay Netflix $8/mo., Gamecenter $20/mo., AT&T a literal fortune a month, Verizon FIOS another fortune a month, and $99/yr to Amazon for Prime, which only provides some entertainment for free (I spent another fortune this year for “Mad Men” for my husband and “Blacklist” for both of us, as well as some movies). I also buy a lot of Kindle books.

    You may be made of $$ but many of us are not. I’m retired and hubby hopes to retire soon. A lot of our entertainment will go away at that point, out of necessity. I don’t think kids and young adults are rich, either. But I bet we all love our music.

    • Offensive? Wow, that’s a pretty hostile word. I did not discuss the fact that some people have large music libraries, and are not the ideal customer for streaming music services, but I will add that to the article. But I don’t see how you consider it to be offensive.

      And why is Apple trying to force-feed you, whereas Spotify, Google, Deezer, Tidal, and many others are not? If anything, it’s the music industry that wants to get people hooked; don’t blame any single company for this.

      I agree about the many subscriptions we pay for. I sympathize that you’re getting ripped off by AT&T; prices for internet and phone service in the US are horrendous, and I’m glad, for that reason, that I no longer live there. But no one is forcing you to pay for Netflix, or Amazon Prime, are Kindle Unlimited. You don’t say that Amazon is trying to force-feed you, but they’ve clearly got you hooked.

    • Speaking as a musician and writer I wonder if more people would care about music if say 95% of us basically went on strike and stopped putting out new music and took down our existing music for like a year. Most people hate the following analogy but it fits, if you load up your cart at the grocery store and then just walk through the check out and tell the cashier, “I just don’t really feel like paying for my food but I’m taking it home and eating it anyway.” If enough people did that the grocery stores would go out of business followed by the distributors and lastly the farmers and ranchers. I don’t think the average listener realizes that if we record at a home studio, recording software can run up $700, good vocals mics are also hundreds of dollars plus the other gear you need not mention the time it takes to record, mix and master. A good recording studio can cost thousand or tens of thousands. We pay for everything else we end up possessing why not pay for the music you enjoy.

  3. $10.00/month is cheap if you listen to a lot of music as I do; for me…it’s the data plan that kills me; the data plan should cut you off when you’ve reached your monthly limit but no……they gouge you per gig instead so you’re not sure unless paying very close attention how much closer one gets to the data ceiling….that’s my only gripe…so it’s up to these streaming services to cut deals with the data mafia.

    • Indeed, and I point that out in the article. I think we’ll start seeing deals with phone companies offering “free” data for specific music streaming services. I think that may already exist in the US a bit, and it’s not uncommon here in Europe, or at least it wasn’t in the past. I’m not sure if there are such plans here any more.

    • Am I the only one thinking this is not really an issue? Not because streaming does not suck up a lot of data (it does), but simply because of the “available offline” button on Spotify. Like a song when you’re at home or on a wi-fi network? Available offline button. Want a full album that just got released? Available offline button. For most of us, time is spent at work or at home where wi-fi networks are always available. For all other instances, the available offline button is there. Now I don’t know how Apple Music handles that, but the available offline option is an absolute must in the streaming age.

      • Sure, if you make sure to download everything you will want to listen to when you’re on cellular data before you go out. In practice, people don’t do that. It also prevents you from listening to, say, For You suggestions when not at home or at work, since you wouldn’t have thought of downloading them before.

  4. Hum. Large iTunes library, many CD’s acquired over the years, Spotify per month, YouTube whenever, some music DVD’s and some selected concerts each year to boot, and I’m on a set income, with occasional ‘bonuses’, so not rolling in it. Look, I do think that for many folk music is important, but often as not, as a background to their party, conversation, study and work as you’ve said. There’s a smaller pool of committed music enthusiasts and we pay because music of our choice matters a lot to us. What we value and enjoy defines our priorities and hence our spending. Other folk have other priorities I guess, which is fine with me. I just can’t see streaming booming enough to become the great new way forward for the music industry, but I admit that it has a growing corner of the market, without a doubt. We’re in a great transition time with many issues and may not live to see how it pans out, so we just play our small part now and leave the future to itself. Enough of my philosophy for the present!

  5. In June of this year, a new book called, “How music Got Free” by Stephen Witt came out clearly explaining the belief about music.

    The way in which music is produced today and how is distributed has created the problems that plague the business. The reason why people for over $20 for a Blu-ray over $10 per month for music is mainly because the music industry failed and continues to fail on understanding how Music is acquired. Do you know how ridiculously easy it is for someone to rip music right off YouTube? Do you know that Apple and Google and Microsoft fully endorse apps that allow you to take YouTube links of clearly uploaded material, at times from the record labels, to play them on an app that is allowing you to play these songs?

    The entire process is a pathetic joke. There is no way to justify $10 a month when you have mechanisms utilized in this way. In the end, you are correct that music has become wallpaper for those who consume it. However, there are clear and disturbing methods that still exist to completely destroy the very notion of having music. One of the main reasons why I will not subscribe to Apple Music is mainly because of the style and method I’m which apple treats the service. They are not 20 to 25 different genres of music. There are over 500 different types with over 100 general types.

    Like Spotify and any other streaming music service, Apple failed to create a service with purpose. Music is portable and could not easily be manipulated with TV shows and motion pictures. Although it is done at a great expense of billions of dollars a year lost in profit, the music business has simply dropped the ball.

    Read the book that I had told you about and fully understand why the music business is a massive and complete failure. Apple Music is a complete failure. All what they were talking about leading to the launch of this service, they were talking about 800,000,000+ iTunes accounts did not even get one eighth of iTunes users to utilize the service or at least try it out is a huge failure by any measure. I know the argument will be said that not everybody has an iTunes account will use it for music, but the fact that you do have 800 million people to choose from; the fact that the numbers don’t even crack over 40 million doubling that of Spotify is a massive failure. Are you understanding the word failure?

    I’m tired that Apple does not get handicapped for their mistakes. Yes PING was a failure but the larger discussion that needs to be discussed is the destruction of Apple music. It failed! It is now time to talk critically about a company that continuously seems to fail under the leadership of Tim Cook.

    • I read it in July, and it was fascinating. I read the entire book in one evening, staying up until 2 am to finish it. I would probably have written a review here, but the next day I hurt my back seriously, and was bedridden for a couple of weeks.

      I would strongly recommend that anyone interested in the history of digital music give it a read: How Music Got Free (, Amazon UK)

  6. I like music. I go in phases when I listen to it a lot – these days largely classical or world or folk. (Which Apple Music refuses to recommend, despite most of what I’ve already streamed being in those genres.) But the other day, when I considered whether or not to renew, I looked at the “Unplayed in a year” smart playlist in my iTunes library. It’s more than 30 days long, and classical music doesn’t even feed into playlist! When I’m apparently that unfamiliar with so much of what’s in my library, it seems a bit silly to pay for a subscription service.

    Another “problem” – not really a problem – is that podcasts have crowded out much of the wallpaper-time that used to be music only.

    And then, perhaps most importantly, there’s the fact that Apple Music is a bit crap unless you’re also willing to integrate it with your library. If I could just set up playlists with it as a totally separate app, I’d probably continue to subscribe, but as is, nope. (Why oh why has Apple pulled out podcasts and audiobooks from the app whose main purpose is to play my iTunes library, yet shoved Apple Music streaming into it?!)

    So I guess I’d pay Apple for a streaming music service that I wanted – which isn’t currently Apple Music. And my library’s so huge already that I can’t really be bothered to sign up for or even investigate another service.

    • Yes, I know a lot of readers of this site have large iTunes libraries like I do. So we’re really not the target audience. And I agree about combining Apple Music with my iTunes library; I refuse to do it. I keep Apple Music on my laptop and my iPod touch only.

  7. Well I’ll be paying, and this is a first for me. I’ve for a long time had a free Spotify account, which I’ve used for listening to music at work. This is obviously ad-supported, and one thing that has always riled me is that given how much they know about my listening habits, the ads they play me and the suggestions made are so out of kilter with my tastes that I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re trolling me.

    Apple Music, on the other hand, consistently greets me with interesting playlists that I enjoy listening to. It gets me. I’ve actually discovered new stuff that I will listen to again. Rather than a thumping advert for “Mega club bangers 2015”. I would also argue that it sounds slightly better than Spotify, though this is of course subjective.

    My one gripe – no integration. I like using to log my listening, but it’s a two-way thing – Apple could make even better recommendations armed with that data.

  8. A different perspective about music lovers vs. listening:

    Back in the day when I was still playing early music (amateur, but I mostly didn’t embarrass myself in public), and learning theory and a little composition, I asked my teachers what they listened to in the background. All four of them said ‘nothing–I rarely listen to music.’ That made no sense to me at the time. Now that I’m older, and even though I’m no longer semi-immersed in live music, I understand the answer. I rarely listen to music anymore because when I do, I want to -listen-. Music in the background is either really good and won’t stay in the background, or is outright irritating, or can help cover up other background noises, but for that I find that a box fan is better. Otherwise, silence is wonderful.

    So, I rarely listen to music, have a fairly big library accumulated over decades (safely sequestered from iCloud), and will be plunking down my $10/month for the foreseeable future, because I want to listen to enough specific things in a month that buying would be more expensive–there’s a good chance I won’t want to listen to most again. If that changes, I can unsub until I’ve built up a backlog then resubscribe. Spotify or other service would probably do as well, but I’m already in the Apple borg, and see no need to spread my data further.

    [For data usage in the US, T-Mobile doesn’t count apple music, if they cover your area adequately enough to be an option.]

  9. This is all quite sad.

    As late as 1999, if not later, Robert Hilburn was still writing a monthly guide in the Los Angeles Times on “keeping up with what’s noteworthy in pop on a CD budget of $50 a month.” That would have bought you 3, maybe 4 or 5, CDs — 35 to 60 songs — each month. It seemed reasonable to spend that amount of money on a limited amount of recorded music back then. Yet. sixteen years later, relatively few people are willing to spend $10 a month to listen to vast libraries of tens of millions of songs, new and old.

    I guess that when the world of recorded music is readily available at your fingertips, the value of that music drops considerably. Its just background.

    Sad, so very sad.

  10. I see comments from many people stating they have a large itunes library. Are these purchased tracks? As Kirk made clear, no one is forcing you to visit the itunes store and buy tracks or albums. I thinks it’s a waste of money to buy a track at 256 kbs (or sometimes less) when 99% of what’s out there can be found for “free.”

    An option for many of you is this: Most local libraries allow check out of audio CDs for no charge. We all know that CDs (I don’t know of any that are) aren’t copy protected. Granted, some libraries will have a larger selection than others. It depends on where you live. Here in my Chicago suburb I have found all that I need, with very few exceptions, at my local branch. if they don’t have it they are able to obtain it from another branch.

    We all know what can be done with a borrowed CD. Copyright infringement? I don’t agree. My property taxes pay for library materials and services. Many library copies are also donated from those who no longer need, or want, the item. Also I don’t copy CDs for others or for profit. Although I choose to rip at 256k to save space on my HDD, a hard copy is always available if I want to hear the higher resolution, full CD version. (Hi Resolution Audio peddlers will NEVER get any $$ from me. People who say they can tell the difference are, IMHO, too easily persuaded that bigger and more expensive is better.)

    I don’t pay for ANY streaming music services. I pay the $25 yearly iTunes Match fee, which gets me my music anywhere I travel, and commercial free custom stations from iTunes Radio. I find it unlikely that I will reach the 25,000 track limit. (Incidentally the limit for Google Play is 50,000 for the same type of free service) No one does it better in my opinion than those two services.

      • Yes, I think you are right, Kirk. And I am definitely not advocating making copies of anyone’s material for monetary gain.

        OTOH, everyone in each community pays for the operation of the library and its budget through state and local taxes, which in turn either buys, or is donated, the items, which in turn loans them back to the population, which can either read (in the case of books – electronic or print) or listen to (in the case of music or audio books) or watch (DVDs or BluRay) an unlimited number of times, so long as we wait our turn when there is a wait list, without dishing out any extra monthly cost.

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