Indie labels have nothing to worry about when it comes to their musics’ presence inside the revamped iTunes store.
That information, from iTunes, comes in response to indie labels initially voicing concern over some of the changes that began taking place inside the store in the last few months of 2014 and January of this year. As a result of those changes, indie labels told Billboard that they feared that their music would have less of a presence than they previously had in iTunes — but a snapshot of the iTunes stores shows indies are holding their own.
Moreover, in another move that should alleviate indie label concerns, the leading digital download store has also backed away from relying so heavily on the sales velocity algorithm it had been experimenting with in December and January, which it was using to help determine the music featured in its sliders.
Finally, iTunes has just made another change to its store that will likely impact the major labels as much as, if not more, than indie labels: Apple has changed the way pre-orders for up and coming titles place in its store chart.
But back to indie label concerns. According to a snapshot provided to Billboard by iTunes, the sector is still well-represented in its store pages. According to Apple, indie music scored 40% of the flow cases — the big ad-like callouts on the top of the page that flow like a carousel; 50 % of the new music sliders, i.e. the album cover cuts; 37% of the hot tracks, the song list under the album cuts on the home page; and 20% of the bricks, the smaller rectangular ad-like callouts under the hot tracks.
Except for the bricks, all those percentages are better than the estimated 35% that indie labels comprise when tracked by ownership.
Indie labels were worried that they would get lost in the shuffle with all the changes happening in the iTunes Store. They were concerned that a sales velocity algorithm playing a strong role in determining what would be featured in its sliders would bolster the advantage of the majors, who tend to have bigger-selling records.
After a few weeks of experimenting with that presentation, the iTunes teamed toned down the algorithm and re-asserted the role that editorial discretion has in choosing which music is highlighted in the store. “iTunes will always be driven by editorial discretion,” says a source who is familiar with Apple’s online store philosophy. “Editorial choice will always be at the heart of what music is featured in the store.”
Beyond the home page, the indie presence is even more pronounced in the genres where the sector is strong, according to the snapshot of data supplied to Billboard. For example, on the alternative page, indie labels still got 40% of the flow cases, but an increased presence within all the other main selling tools. They got 74% of the new music slider, 47% of the hot tracks and 63% of the bricks.
Besides placement within the store, indie labels were worried about the effort to clean the store of sound-alikes and cover versions of the songs, so that its customers aren’t misled when shopping. The clean-up included removing European public domain titles and cutting down on all the multiple greatest hits album packages that some heritage artists have in their back catalog.
Keeping the store clean is an ongoing effort, but one that went into high gear at the end of 2014 and the beginning of this year. As part of that, iTunes issued a new style guide, though some albums were taken down even though those releases were seemingly in compliance, a concern indie labels voiced to Billboard.
Other indies say they are confident that legitimate music titles will be returned to the store. “If you make your case for whatever music is no longer available in the store, Apple will listen,” says one indie executive. “iTunes are flexible; they are not an account who says ‘its our way or the highway.'”
The latest move inside iTunes addresses how pre-orders are counted. Previously, pre-orders impacted the store chart as the orders came in, as well as the day of the release, when those orders were fulfilled to customers. That usually meant a title with a large amount of preorders would be assured the No. 1 slot on the day of release, an effective marketing tool for labels which allowed them to bring attention to the album’s availability by touting its No. 1 spot in the iTunes chart.
However, in the new configuration, all pre-orders are wiped clean as the clock strikes midnight on the day of the release. Consequently, that title’s chart position is determined by what new sales activity takes place on the first day of its release, not all the activity it had generated through pre-orders. This move cuts down chances of landing the No. 1 spot, as the new release will have to get there solely through new purchases on the day of release.
Major label executives say they understand why Apple made the move it did, but that it will take some getting used to. “This is a big move, because everyone in the industry pays attention to the iTunes storefront more than any other store or service,” says one major label executive. “No one looks at the Amazon, Google or Spotify music pages the way they pay attention to iTunes.”