Apple Delivered A Free Album, Broke Users' Expectations

Apple delivered/pushed free music to 500,000 iTunes accounts. Some people reacted negatively, and it's kind of understandable. Apple shattered normal people's illusions that their music library was theirs. Also that assumption about U2 being universally desirable.

Arg.1: It's Free, Get Over It

At first I actually couldn't understand why people where whining about free music popping up into iTunes and their music app. It's free, you don't have to listen to it. I didn't get it. It's an album in your list, big deal. I love U2.

After all, I didn't mind getting free music, and I want to listen to it; how bad could all this be? I have most of U2's albums, what's the big deal, everyone? Apple gave you something for free, what is there to complain about? You're being just a complainer. What a first world problem, jeez. Because I love U2, and was in their target demographic, I couldn't understand why people would hate being given something free.

Arg 2. But What If It Was Nickelback or Bieber?

...or [insert name of a band you find shitty here]

Yeeep, now I can see how and why people are unhappy with this. I don't really agree with the intensity of the faux outrage or whatever. It's a first-world problem. Look, we're talking about music on a $700 device, so that's kind of a given.

If a band or album that I don't like or ever want just showed up unannounced, I'd be annoyed that I have to go out of my way to fix my library to look how I want it. Apple doesn't make it easy to remove. That's why people are annoyed. You cannot simply swipe left on the album and delete it. You showed up with something I don't want, and you don't make it easy to remove.

The phone might not have downloaded the entire album, but it'd stream it from the cloud if a song popped into the randomize play-all playlist.

The tweetstream is full of white male 30-somethings asking "What's the big deal?" and "don't look a gift horse in the mouth".

This is just as tone-deaf as Apple's initial mistake. Not everyone is into rock music, and fewer are into U2.

Whether you're a 15 year old hip-hop listener or a 50 year old country music singer, being given an album for free (that you won't listen to) isn't damaging, it's just annoying. Not everyone understands the technology behind this as well. Not everyone watched the iPhone keynote.

Music Is Personal

People were upset that Apple could "reach into their library and mess with their files. Who do they think they are? Those are my files on my phone". Whether that's technically correct isn't the issue. Tech-literate people know that Apple has the technical means to alter the things that show up in your music library; you pay them to do so, usually by adding things at your request.

The point is that users believe that their phones contain their music. As an iTunes customer, your assumption up to this point has been that you control what shows up in your library.

Breaking Customer Expectations

People tweeted rather technically illiterate about how "my iTunes got hacked", etc. It's kind of funny to see clueless people react to publicly, but Apple kind of played with fire on this one.

Bottom line: Apple broke customer expectations. People/users/customers expect the music purchase interaction to be a pull action, and Apple turned it into a push model. I'd like to see the Venn Diagram of iTunes customers and people who like U2.

How Apple and U2 Should Have Done It

  1. Send an email to all iTunes customers.
  2. "Congrats, here's a free album; it's U2's newest. Click this link to add to your library. Love, Apple"

People would jump at the chance, or scoff and tweet "What is a U2?" and then move on. This approach wouldn't have broken the user's expectations on what shows up in their library

Take a listen to how Apple's CEO Tim Cook gushed at the idea of delivering half a billion copies of an album. This album push was for Apple's benefit, not the customer's. Apple paid for the exclusive distribution rights in the first month or so. Apple wanted to make a splash. They talked about it being a benefit for their customers, but not all customers consider it a benefit. Again, back to values: if you grew up listening to U2, it's a valuable good. If you're a hip-hop listener, it's an annoyance.

Apple's Removal Tool Isn't Enough

This is now an opt-out scenario.

Apple has provided a web page to allow anyone to remove the free U2 album from their iTunes library. That's cool. It'll end up being used by a small percentage of iTunes users. Will Apple email this info to its iTunes customers? This removal needs to be done in the Music app, not on the web only. The problem is that the Music app doesn't have this feature.