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Apple: No, we're not killing off iTunes music downloads

A report claims that Apple will ditch downloads sometime in the next few years. Apple says no.

Apple says it has no plans to retire iTunes downloads.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Reports of the coming death of iTunes Music have been greatly exaggerated, at least according to Apple.

On Wednesday, a story by Digital Music News claimed that Apple is looking to put the kibosh on music downloads from its iTunes store as soon as two years from now. Sources "with close and active business relationships with Apple" told the site that discussions are focused "not on if, but when" music downloads would be given the heave-ho.

In response, Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr simply said, "Not true," according to Recode. Neumayr apparently didn't elaborate, and Apple didn't reply to a request for comment. But the report does trigger the question of what role purchased music downloads can and will play given the increasing dominance of subscription-based streaming music services.

iTunes has generated healthy sales, but its main goal has been to lure people into Apple's embrace by getting them to buy iPhones and iPads and all the services tied to those devices.

But with the company now focused on its own Apple Music streaming service, which can also drive more people to the Apple ecosystem, would it kill off its music downloads? Probably not, if those downloads still account for billions of dollars in sales.

Revenue from iTunes music purchases have stayed steady at around $3.5 billion, two people familiar with finances told Bloomberg. iTunes music downloads will still ring in about $600 million in sales in 2019, though that number would be down from a high of $3.9 billion in 2012, Digital Music News said, citing an estimate from music industry analyst Mark Mulligan at Canadian Music Week.

Apple Music is still in its infancy. Apple reportedly plans to fine-tune the streaming service to eliminate some of the confusion and complexity that may be turning off potential subscribers. iTunes music downloads bring in about three times the revenue generated by Apple Music.

So Apple would be foolish to retire music downloads, at least at this point. But a few years down the road, the landscape may look different, and music streaming services are likely to play a much bigger and more profitable role than they do now.

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