Keep Experimenting, Apple

I'm glad to see signs that Apple may be showing more flexibility in its pricing philosophy on the iTunes front. Yesterday, it began selling so-called

I'm glad to see signs that Apple may be showing more flexibility in its pricing philosophy on the iTunes front. Yesterday, it began selling so-called "Multi-Pass" packages of Comedy Channel's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, that let you buy 16 episodes for $9.99. And Apple Insider ran a story a few days ago suggesting Apple may have commissioned a third party survey, to gauge viewer interest in a video-on-demand service using iTunes that would might let viewers choose from 1,000 movies for a monthly fee, possibly for as low as $10.

UPDATE: I got a call from Tom Southwick, senior vice president of communicaions for Starz Entertainment. He tells me that it was Starz that commissioned the survey mentioned above, because it is interested in having Apple become a partner for its new Vongo movie download service. He says there have been some talks, but Apple still seems committed to its a la carte approach. So there goes one piece of evidence of a change in philosophy from Apple.
I don't know if Apple was really behind this survey, and the Muli-Pass offering is hardly a radical leap into a new pricing model. But I hope we're seeing a change from Apple's religious devotion to the a la carte model. While I agree that Apple's simple pricing structure is main reason for iTunes' huge success, it's time to find out how else folks might want to buy.

My hunch: Apple will find that it likes getting paid $9.99 by John Stewart fans, especially since many will not even watch all of the episodes they pay for. And if it really does start investigating new models, I'd bet Apple would find ways to make iTunes a far more powerful platform for selling digital media than it is today, with a wide variety of customer types. The most radical possibility is that the world's digerati, or at least some of them, might drop cable service altoghether to rely on iTunes instead (though Apple would need to broaden its range of programming big-time for iTunes for it to be a true cable replacement alternative).

But there are other sizeable markets waiting to be harvested, it seems to me. If Apple offered a movie "rental" service--like an online Neflix that gave you the right to view but not own--I'm sure it would appeal to plenty of road warriors (who could then get a new movie for each flight, without having to buy movies they'd probably never want to watch again). And if Apple ever offered a music subscription, a la Real Networks' Rhapsody, millions of iPod owners might suddenly agree to pay Apple another $10 a month. That's roughly an order of magnitude more than most iPod owners currently spend on iTune.

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