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iTunes Match, One Year Later

By Tyler Hayes, who runs the music discovery discovery site Nxt Big Thing.

"iTunes Match: YoHero_titleur subscription will expire in 30 days". The email was a reminder that it's almost been one year since Apple launched their 'iTunes in the Cloud'.

Clearer in hindsight than it was on launch day of the product, iTunes Match is simply an express way for your music to be instantaneously transported to you. No more wondering if your main computer is on, hooked up to the network correctly and set to share your music on your home wi-fi, it's just simple access to your acquired music.

The conflict that keeps racing to the forefront of my mind as I look back on the last 12 months though, is the last part of that sentence, "acquired music". A year ago I was torn between buying all my music individually, downloading it, and "owning" it versus streaming it all and renting it from services like Spotify or Rdio. Now, I'm less torn and tend to rely more on Spotify because for someone who listens to a lot of music, it's a better deal financially. Even though they have a spotty track record of having everything I want to listen to available, compared to iTunes, they have enough to justify the $10/month.

With iTunes Match, Apple breathed new life into the stale business model of paying for every album you wanted to hear. But now just one year later, that new life is looking stale once again. Choosing a music service or platform shouldn't take a spreadsheet with 10 different categories, but it appears as if the music race still isn't over and for the time being it does. Beyond the different types of services are different philosophies on how musicians should be paid, which is a whole separate rats nest unto itself. Amazon has taken the stance of discounting digital music because of less overhead, Spotify and Rdio were, by design, at the bleeding edge of on-demand music, and now Microsoft has joined the races with Xbox Music. Microsoft is giving free streaming music to everyone with an Xbox 360, Windows Phone 8 device, or PC running Windows 8. In comparison, Apple is charging $25/year to access your already purchased music. To the credit of iTunes Match though, the reason why it often feels like a neat feature rather than a $2+/month service is because it works near flawless.

Looking back at the service's first year keeps bringing me back to money, costs and the bigger, more vague, problem of paying artists. Do I pay Apple for iTunes Match to allow seamless access to my music collection that may stay static longer or do I pay Spotify for an infinite collection that's not permanent? I guess that answer depends on the user and their use case. For me, when I got the email saying that my year was almost up, it left a big doubt as to whether I'd be signing up for another year.