Falling Stars: What To Do When Your Product Starts To Fade Like iTunes

Even once mighty products can fall on hard times
Even once mighty products can fall on hard times

Image Credit: Micah Laaker

Can there be any better feeling that that of a product manager who is in charge of a high-flying product? A product that everyone wants and you almost can’t make enough of to satisfy demand? Those sure are great times, but they won’t last no matter how good your product development definition is. Every party eventually comes to an end. When your product’s star starts to fade, what is a product manager to do?

The iTunes Story

Y’all have heard about iTunes haven’t you? iTunes is the Apple online store that sells, among other things, downloadable music. When iTunes first showed up, it changed the world. Now instead of having to pay US$15 for an album of roughly 12 songs from a single artist, customers could pay $0.99 to purchase a single song. This digital song could be easily downloaded and played on the customer’s Apple product. Managing a product that is this successful is something that we’d all like to be able to put on our product manager resume

iTunes was a huge hit. The music business watched its business model that was built on selling CDs of music change almost overnight. The total size of the market was relatively stable, just how the product was being sold changed. This was a very good time to be an Apple iTunes product manager. Then everything started to change.

Starting in 2014, iTunes sales started to decline: by 14% just in the first half of the year. What was going on? It turns out that the new music streaming services such a Spotify and Pandora which offered both free (with commercials) and paid (no commercials) services were winning over former iTunes customers. The new subscription services were only charging $10/month and clearly customers felt that this was a bargain over giving their money to iTunes.

What’s Apple’s iTunes Product Manager’s Next Step?

So what would you do if you were an Apple iTunes product manager? Your strategy would have to consist of two parts: protecting your core business and developing new lines of revenue. The good news here is that Apple is moving aggressively to do both of these things.

In order to protect their existing iTunes business, they need to make sure that people remain aware of it and that they see it as having value. In order to accomplish both of these tasks, Apple recently made the popular musical group U2’s new album “Song of Innocence” available to everyone with an iTunes account. Yes, this caused some controversy because they pushed it out to everyone, but they did accomplish their goal: everyone was talking about iTunes.

In order to expand their product offering, the Apple iTunes product managers have taken a different approach. Apple recently paid $3B to purchase the company Beats which makes headphones and has a streaming music service. This streaming service means that Apple can now play both sides of the coin: operate the iTunes store and offer a streaming music service. No matter which one becomes more popular in the future, the Apple product managers should be well positioned to take advantage of it.

What All Of This Means For You

Every product manager’s secret dream is to be in charge of a wildly successful product. The Apple iTunes product managers have found themselves in this position for a number of years. The shift from purchasing physical CDs to buying digital music online was driven by iTunes and they made the most of it. However, now things are changing.

The arrival of streaming music services has started to eat into the music sales market that iTunes has been serving. Customers are saying that paying $10/month to stream an unlimited amount of music is more valuable than buying a limited number of singles. To deal with this change, Apple is working to make sure that people remember iTunes by giving music away for free. They have also bought Beats and picked up their own music streaming service. The Apple iTunes product managers are now well positioned for what comes next.

As product managers we need to be careful to never become too overconfident – this should almost be a part of every product manager job description. Even when our product is a big hit, there is always something else out there that can transform our market and our product. The Apple iTunes product managers are dealing with this right now and they have to take steps to be successful in a new market. We’ll have to watch and see how things turn out…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How do you think that you could leverage iTunes to make Apple’s new streaming service more popular?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So when you think about what kind of product manager job you’d really like to have, what comes to mind? If you are like most of us, you’d like to be working at one of those fast moving Silicon Valley startups that seem to be in the newspaper all of the time. You’d be making deals, rolling out new features, creating the best product development definition, and planning for the day that your company had its big IPO. Well guess what, how we picture this life and what it’s really like just might be two different things. Let’s take a look at what’s going on over at Box…