Catching iTunes with Classical Music

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal ran a piece by Ethan Smith titled “Can Anyone Catch iTunes?” looking at strategies of iTunes competitors such as Yahoo, Microsoft, and Napster. Most focus on pricing, rights management, and device compatibility. But there is still opportunity to innovate on product performance – for example, in classical music. How would a category killer work in the online classical niche?

  • Charge for works, not tracks. Usually, each movement of a piece is a separate track, making a work like Ravel’s Mother Goose (7 movements) uneconomical. Pricing tiers should reflect the scale of a work – you would pay more for Ravel’s single-movement Bolero (15 minutes) than you would for his Pavane for a Dead Princess (6 minutes).
  • More robust searching. The iTunes heirarchy of Artist > Album > Track isn’t enough for classical music. I’d like to be able to search by the title and composer of the piece, as well as the conductor, orchestra, and soloists.
  • Shuffle pieces, not movements. Symphonies are meant to be heard as complete works, but current shuffle features can’t keep the movements together. I’d like to be able to listen to symphonies in random order while maintaining each movement as a separate track.

Naxos is the leading online classical music provider, with its entire library of 11,500 CDs online for $150 per year (I haven’t tried the service). But there’s no ecosystem to support it. As anyone knows who has typed in a track title like “Beethoven, Harnoncourt, The Cleveland Orchestra: Beethoven Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica,’ Mvt. III Scherzo – allegro vivace,” there is still opportunity to delight classical music fans.


One Response to “Catching iTunes with Classical Music”

  1. Economics of Music « Zeal and Activity Says:

    […] launches a “Classical Blowout” store with CDs priced under $10. Chris Anderson notes “Amazon’s listing is customized for classical music, while iTunes isn’t.” Barry Ritholtz asks what might be the profit-maximizing price for music: “Shouldn’t an online store, with theoretically infinite shelves, and extremely low cost of marginal product manufacturing, offer a wide variety of products at very competitive prices?”  I’ve written about a related topic in the past (Catching iTunes with Classical Music). […]

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