Now that Apple has officially purchased Beats Music and Beats Electronics, we are left to ponder its broader meanings as the man who once rapped about gangbanging and reefer now becomes a high-profile Apple employee. I believe the deal symbolizes the possible end of an era: an end to Apple as an innovative brand, and a farewell to Dr. Dre as a music maker.
As reported widely, Apple officially acquired music service Beats Music and Beats Electronics (which makes Beats headphones, speakers and audio software) for a total purchase price of $2.6 billion. As part of the deal, Beats co-founders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre have joined Apple to take on unspecified roles.
The acquisition is widely viewed as Apple playing catch-up to streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora. Apple’s own press release stressed the importance of Beats Music. As a sign of respect for the Beats brand (and lack of belief in its own), Apple will keep the subscription Beats Music intact, alongside Apple’s own iTunes Radio. Beats Music has hardly taken the world by storm as a streaming competitor to Spotify and Pandora since being launched in January 2014. But Apple Insider reports that the service has a strong conversion rate, with the vast majority of tracks being streamed by paying customers. Meantime, iTunes, which relies on a download model, has seen its sales slump as consumers latch on to streaming services. iTunes Radio, Apple’s answer to streaming, has yet to take hold.
Apple Buys into Innovation
When I first heard the rumors of Apple buying Beats weeks ago, I remembered back in 2011 Farhad Manjoo of Fast Company touting Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google as the four economic titans fueling the “great tech war,” pitted against each other in a “battle for the future of the digital economy.” Apple emerged as the clear favorite of consumer innovation, reeling off one game-changing product after another. Facebook? Well, Mark Zuckerberg was riding the momentum of a business built off one compelling idea, that as naturally social creatures, human beings would flock to a digital place where we could emulate our offline social behaviors online. But on top of the core innovation of launching Facebook, Zuckerberg’s massive wealth, and Facebook’s phenomenal growth, was built off pedestrian advertising programs and ongoing tweaks to the core product as opposed to anything newsworthy (unless by “newsworthy” we want to count noticeable gaffes such as Beacon).