iTunes Pass Lets Fans Subscribe to Bands’ Releases, Starting with Depeche Mode

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Back in 2006, Apple introduced a Season Pass feature for television series for sale as downloads via ites iTunes Store: fans could be a pass for a series while it was on the air, and have new episodes delivered to them automatically as soon as they came available on iTunes. Now, Apple is extending the idea to music releases with iTunes Pass, enabling artists to set up deals where users can subscribe to new releases and extras and receive them automatically as the new material comes out. And the first act to get in on iTunes Pass is veteran dance and alternative outfit Depeche Mode, offering an iTunes Pass to its forthcoming album Sounds of the Universe for $18.99. For that, fans get the new Single "Wrong" as well as Black Odyssey Club’s remix of the new song "Oh Well"—plus every new song will appear in users libraries when the album comes out on April 21, along with video extras and new music titles along the way. The Depeche Mode iTunes Pass is slated to be available through June 16, 2009.

The iTunes Pass represents the closest move Apple has made towards a subscription model for music. Unlike Rhapsody, Napster, and numerous other services, iTunes only offers music on a pay-to-download, track-by-track basis. While numerous industry watchers have advocated Apple offer an all-you-can-eat monthly subscription plan, Apple has remained adamant that users want to own their music, and not lose access to it if a subscription lapses.

iTunes Pass also represents a new step in Apple’s efforts to enable artists and record labels "upsell" fans by offering extra content and special deals to encourage users to buy albums or bundles, rather than paying only to download a track or two. Although iTunes may be the most successful online music service to date, its business model tends to encourage people to buy individual singles rather than whole albums—which, in turn, doesn’t really please record labels or the artists themselves, who don’t necessarily like to see their work perceived only in isolated fragments.

Numerous artists have experimented with special bundles outside of iTunes, offering them via their own Web sites or competing services. Recent successes include released by the Dandy Warhols, Metallica, and a Beastie Boys re-issue.

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