Apple Music is gaining on Spotify

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Apple’s experience in streaming music has been a roller coaster ride. iTunes’ launch in 2001 marked an important time for digital music. The media player gave listeners an easy way to organize their music and upload it to their iPod.

iTunes’ potential and widespread use should have kickstarted Apple in becoming an unquestioned leader in the music streaming niche, though significant criticism regarding bugs and bloatware within iTunes caused the media player to lose popularity.

A Tale of Two Streaming Platforms

Seeing an opportunity in the wake of iTunes’ struggles, Spotify launched in October 2008. Rather than pursuing the role of a media player, Spotify’s emphasis on streaming music brought waves to an industry. Today, Spotify is home to over 22 million subscribers and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The platform’s growing popularity gave a solution to the music industry’s issues with piracy, giving fans a legal way to listen without limits for a monthly cost.

The launch of Apple Music in 2015 thrust Apple into taking music streaming seriously. Although the original iOS version of Apple Music received criticism upon release for its clunky user interface, the service received an upgrade for iOS 10, with positive reviews. Since then, Apple Music has been climbing steadily as a major player in music streaming.

Apple Is Closing the Gap

It appears that Apple’s commitment to music streaming, with taking the redesign of Apple Music in iOS 10 seriously, is paying off. Among streaming services, Apple Music now has the fastest growth rate in the United States, the world’s largest music market. Both platforms sit around the 21-22 million mark for subscriber count in the United States. That number is notable, since Apple had 13 million U.S. subscribers last year, compared to Spotify’s 17 million subscribers. Apple Music’s growth rate is impressive.

The streaming data surrounding the release of Drake’s new album, Scorpion, on June 29 is also an indication of Apple Music’s continuing rise. The album broke streaming records, with 1 billion global streams and 746 million streams in the United States. However, despite a widespread marketing campaign from Spotify that made Drake visible across a multitude of Spotify playlists, Apple Music is the platform with the most streams for Scorpion. The count is by a large margin, with Scorpion receiving 170 million streams on Apple Music and 130 million streams on Spotify.

Apple Music’s growth over the past year, combined with the impressive numbers from Drake’s Scorpion release, shows decisively that Apple Music has already closed the gap on Spotify.

Differences in User Engagement

Another example involves the release of J. Cole’s KOD album in May. Apple Music’s 64.5 million U.S. streams of the J. Cole album, compared to Spotify’s 36.7 million U.S. streams, represents a nearly 30 million gap. Spotify has a slightly larger user base, though the numbers from the J. Cole and Drake releases suggest Apple Music users are more engaged.

The J. Cole and Drake examples are especially relevant from a market standpoint since hip-hop and rhythm and blues represent 36.2 percent of all music streaming. It’s notable to highlight the stream count disparities between two major releases in that genre this year.

Spotify notes that a bulk of its plays come from its own curated or algorithm-driven playlists, suggesting that Spotify users are more keen on pressing play and letting Spotify do the choosing. Alternatively, the numbers indicate that users of Apple Music are more specific in what they’re seeking, potentially resulting in a greater engagement rate.

While total subscriber numbers do have relevance, it’s crucial to note Apple Music’s rapid growth over the past year. The success of major releases from Drake and J. Cole on Apple Music is recent proof that Apple continues to close the gap in the streaming music niche, even when Spotify invests amply in promoting those releases on its platform.


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