Apple Hopes Music Fans Have Time to Play B-Sides

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Back in the Days of Yore, before netbooks and mobile phones and even (shudder) Walkmans, there was the 9-inch vinyl 45 rpm single. On sale in record stores everywhere, 45s were designed by the industry to be a cheaper alternative to buying entire albums, offering consumers a chance to buy just the songs they liked from a particular artist—45s were also huge for jukebox systems, enabling players to pop in a dime (or, later, a quarter!) and set up their own playlists in pizza joints, diners, and bars around the world. One neat things about 45s was that customers essentially got two songs for the price of one: sure, the hit single was on the A-side, but the B-side featured another track from the same artist or label; sometimes the B-side wasn’t anything interesting, but sometimes it was a hidden gem.

Vinyl 45s aren’t quite vanished from the earth, but in this day they’re more properly characterized as an affectation than a mainstream music market. But Apple is hoping to cash in on a little nostalgia for the final days of the 45 rpm single with its new Digital 45s feature, which pairs up a popular single from a particular artist with another track (usually a lesser-known track from the same album) to let customers see another side of the artist. And Apple is pricing Digital 45s at $1.49 to $1.99, which means customers typically get a little bit of a price break buying the Digital 45 rather than the separate tracks—for instance, a Digital 45 of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” paired with “Cat People” would run $2.58 track-by-track ($1.29 × 2), where the Digital 45 runs $1.99.

Many of Apple’s initial Digital 45s offerings focus on the final days of the 45 in the 1980s, focussing on artists like Duran Duran, Human League, Van Halen, and (of course) Michael Jackson. But there are a few surprises, including Nat King Cole, the Doors, Otis Redding, and even Coldplay.

Of course, the Digital 45 is (like the 45 single itself) a way for Apple and music companies to convince users to buy more music. But after the introduction of variable pricing in the iTunes store, it’s nice to see Apple offering a way for customers to get a bit of a price cut on tracks without having to buy entire albums.

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