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iTunes Customers Downloading More Free Apps Than Music

Let's face it: iTunes no longer controls the digital music scene. Customers – whether they own an iOS, Android or Windows Phone 8 device – have plenty of outlets to choose from when purchasing and downloading their favorite singles and albums. Google Play and Amazon come to mind, offering up huge libraries spanning old to new releases that can easily be uploaded to an iPhone and iPad as any other competing non-iOS products.

That said, it's no surprise that iTunes users are downloading more free apps than they are downloading music. With most music going (relatively) DRM-free or easily streamed from the cloud, customers are branching out for better deals. What's interesting is that not only has the iTunes user population grown from 50 million in 2010 to 67 million in 2013, but its users are more apt to download a free app than they are a song.

MORE: Apple's iMusic Could Land Warner, Universal Deals Soon

"Listening to music files on iTunes is still the most popular application, but it has been on the decline for the past two years," The NPD Group reports. "While the percentage of iTunes users who downloaded individual digital songs has been holding steady at 29 percent since 2011, it has been surpassed by acquisition of free apps, which 35 percent of iTunes users reported downloading in 2013."

According to a chart provided by the NPD Group, in 2010 54 percent of U.S.-based iTunes users listened to music files, 31 percent actually purchased digital songs, and 9 percent purchased digital albums. During that same year, 24 percent of the users downloaded a free app, and 12 percent actually purchased an app.

In 2013, 41 percent of the U.S.-based iTunes users listen to music files, down from the previous two years. Only 29 percent purchased individual songs (also down) and 9 percent purchased digital albums. Meanwhile, 35 percent of Apple's iTunes customers downloaded a free app and 18 percent actually purchased an app, the latter of which is up from 2011 and 2010.

Thus, app sales have grown over the last three years, likely boosted by an acceleration of free app downloads which in turn could lead to premium app sales. Digital sales of albums have mostly remained constant over the last four years, but purchases of individual songs have dropped. Still, the numbers show that iTunes is still a strong platform for music discovery for both iOS and non-iOS customers.

"Even though apps are a growing part of the iTunes experience, one in four respondents reported using iTunes to sample music, so the discovery component that is so key to selling music is still strong," said Russ Crupnick, senior vice president of industry analysis at NPD. "It will be interesting to see the extent to which music re-establishes dominance, when iTunes Radio launches later this year."

Given the numbers above represent customers based on all platforms, the research firm goes into more detail regarding Apple's iOS platform. Around 94 percent of these device owners downloaded apps in 2012 with an average of 32 free apps, and 95 percent in 2013 with an average of 35 free apps. Paid app buyers declined slightly, from 72 percent to 69 percent.

"Games were the most popular free apps downloaded by iOS users this year (81 percent), followed by social networking (70 percent), utilities (55 percent), and music (54 percent)," the report states. "Games also led paid app downloads (72 percent), followed by music (18 percent), and health and fitness (13 percent)."

NPD's iTunes 2013 Consumer Usage & Market Dynamics Report is based on 3,470 completed surveys from iTunes users and 1,448 from non-iTunes users. It's available to download here.

  • nevilence
    Thats because the apps are as free as the music they are pirating....
  • velocityg4
    Not surprising free > paid. Since the apps are free and the music is not this makes sense.

    Personally I buy my music in wholesale lots of CD's and Record's. The CD's for ripping to lossless for my iPhone the Record's for playing at home. It's still a lot cheaper than paying $1 a track on iTunes and better quality.
  • teh_chem
    Purchasing music is very different from downloading apps (often free) apps. I would not really say that they are comparable activities, and the disparity between them doesn't have much relevance so comparing music purchases to app downloads is pretty meaningless.

    The only personal media device I had before I began using smartphones was an ipod touch. At that time, I only used iTunes for digital music downloading. But (as the article mentioned), as options have advanced, and as I began using smartphones (android), I mostly abandoned iTunes all together. I mostly use Amazon mp3 for my music purchases (because amazon had mp3 downloads sooner than google play music did).
  • subaru41
    Anybody else surprised that people are still using iTunes?
  • dalethepcman
    I find it hard to believe that only 35% of iTunes users downloaded a free app in the last 12 months.
  • BranFlake5
    This isn't obvious why?
  • Yong Allen
    Apple cares more about their high priced stocks and their shareholders than the user - what do expect when there are free music available everywhere on the web - duh