September 23, 2008

Pure Genius: Apple Innovates Once Again

Apple continues to push the boundaries of marketing and selling music with their recent release of iTunes 8 by integrating a plethora of new features that expand the already effective digital music player and download store. Since iTunes was released five short years ago, Apple has held the title of industry trendsetter and leader in digital download sales due in part to the way they integrate new search options and player settings that simultaneously make their software user-friendly and an effective online marketplace. With the integration of the new “Genius” feature, Apple may again break new ground in the music industry. Perhaps the most intriguing new aspect of iTunes 8, the Genius feature allows a user to assemble a playlist of songs “that go great together” at the click of a button by utilizing search technologies that have only been used and developed by smaller, independent websites such as Pandora and By integrating this brand of music search engine with the already established iTunes store, Apple could be on to something that transforms the way record labels and music websites think about marketing music online.

The integration of subjective search engines, meaning those that search for songs based on their musical content or genre, have become increasingly more important to online music marketing. Pandora, the first website to use this search method, has been cited as a hub for the discovery of new music and an outlet for independent and unsigned acts to break through to potential new listeners. boasts a feature that groups artists from similar genres together in the hopes that curious music listeners will sample new bands. However, neither of these websites have integrated the technology directly into an online storefront the way that Apple has with iTunes 8. The Genius feature not only groups similar songs from a listener’s library, but also searches the iTunes store for songs that might "go great with each other."

The Genius feature has the potential to be revolutionary due in part to its Pandora-like search methods but more importantly because of its integration with the iTunes store, which has already been tested and accepted as the easiest, most effective way to legally download music. Through the implementation of the Genius feature, the iTunes store search process becomes more specific, yet at the same time gives the consumer the illusion of control. The ability to obtain a list of songs that sound just like a favorite with the click of a button is niche-marketing at its finest, but it doesn't feel that way. Instead of iTunes posting a single storefront of songs from the same genre, as it sometimes does on the store's frontpage, the Genius button can conjure up list after list of potential purchases masked as new songs. The way Genius searches iTunes and the quality of the playlists it generates are essential factors in the new feature's success.

The Genius search methods rely on the information from iTunes user's libraries to hone its searching capabilities. Apparently the more information that is submitted, the smarter the music search tool becomes. But many have doubts that the Genius feature is anything special. I see the search tool as the first small step in a line of many to reach this search technology's full potential. Technology moves quickly, and many forget what it was like to use Pandora or for the first time. I have always seen Apple as the top tier online music service, and when they integrate a feature or develop a technology it usually becomes commonplace quickly, and then we can't live without it.

As an entrepreneur in the music industry working to figure out how to successfully release new music on the internet, subjective searches seem to be a very promising solution. To pair up-and-coming acts with already established artists of the same genre is an extremely powerful marketing tool. In the past, bands had to share the stage with established acts or make their way onto a compilation to get the kind of exposure that a simple Pandora search can achieve. With this technology, almost any new band can have the opportunity to be featured alongside artists who have defined their genre. Although the Genius feature seems very promising in terms of discovering new music, it may not be the solution for new independent artists. The iTunes store is hard to be a part of if you are a new band. Even if a band were on the iTunes store, it would be difficult to come up in a Genius search if nobody has the album yet. I believe that the Genius feature on iTunes 8 is a step in the right direction for online music marketing, however smaller sites that have been honing this technology for years will not be pushed aside by iTunes as a distribution network for small, new bands. However, iTunes will continue to lead the pack on a large scale, and the Genius search feature will definitely become an asset.


Parker Champion said...

I'm curious, do you think that the genius sidebar will promote more users to use the iTunes store? I know personally I love the new genius feature because it is able to find songs that I forgot I even had in my library. Do you think this new Gennius feature was developed purely to increase iTunes sales or to increase functionality of the iTunes program in general?

Michael Ecker said...

Chris, I enjoyed your post about the new genius feature on iTunes, I could not agree with you more. I think that the feature does a great job of establishing links between songs and artists that are already established, and that smaller up-and-coming or independent bands will be left out. This is a result of iTunes mostly only having songs released by major labels, and Apple's extreme habit of self promotion. There are, however, a couple more criticisms of "Genius" that I have, and I'd like to hear your thoughts on them.

The first is that I find it silly that people are comparing "Genius" to selective internet giants Pandora, and While they all do similar things in theory, they all seem to have a separate niche so that certain people use all of them at different times. Those who use Pandora, and like to discover their new music through listening to music, where Genius simply hands you a playlist. I think that dedicated and Pandora users have far too much pride and "indie-cred" to ever take Genius seriously.

That brings me to my other criticism of Genius. Since the arrival of a blank cassette tape, people have been making mix-tapes for friends, family, and lovers. As a seasoned mix-tape (now mix-cd) maker, I find it almost sad that Genius may make the art obsolete. Not that you cannot make a playlist on your own anymore, but how many lazy boyfriends will simply take "our song" and use genius to create a beautiful meaningful mix, and nobody is the wiser. I suppose in this age of information, this cannot be helped. I just know that now anytime someone gives me a mix-CD I'll be just a little bit suspicious.

You hit it right on the nose when you said that Apple has a way of taking a new product or feature and turning it from a useless gadget to something you cannot live without. When the iPod first arrived, I couldn't imagine why you would ever need all your songs in one place, now I take my iPod everywhere. In the same way I will not be surprised when Genius becomes the norm in my life, and all of everyone's criticisms are thrown by the wayside.

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