Oct 09

The curious case of iTunes LP

A cool way to buy online music, curiously named

iTunes moves forward by looking backward, to something we all missed. But about that name...

There are a hundred variables surrounding product naming. No matter what you choose, you can rest assured that many will think it’s the dumbest thing they ever heard. With that in mind, let’s discuss Apple’s decision to call their newest iTunes feature “iTunes LP.”

I find this interesting because there are serious pros and cons to this decision, and it’s fun to imagine yourself being in the room.

iTunes LP is Apple’s way of making the album more appealing. The LP format delivers the album art and liner notes that have been the principle casualty of the online music revolution. If you have enough barnacles, you will recognize the LP name, because that’s what they used to call vinyl albums. It stood for “long-playing.” But does that reference matter — or have any value at all — to the person who’s buying online music today? Or would they have been better off with a more human, more descriptive name?

On the positive side, iTunes LP is indeed long-playing (compared to a single song), and a good reason to buy the album instead of individual tunes. And there is a certain nostalgia that comes with the term. On the negative side, probably only a small percentage of music lovers today are old enough to have that nostalgia. For them, LP is just a couple of letters — about as imaginative as XP. Plus, if you want to get technical, LP refers to the recording format, not the goodies that were a by-product of it.

Naming experts will rightfully tell you to just shut up, because once the first reaction is behind you (a week?), a name is a name. LP is already starting to feel okay. I just find it fascinating because Apple had the opportunity to give this concept a more imaginative name, but didn’t. What would you have said when the table turned to you for an opinion?

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  • hmmmm… iTunes 8-Track?

    i agree that the direction chosen might have been better served going after the more personal and contemporary. iTunes, iPod, iTouch, iMac… it all revolves around the personal connection, and LP does just seem like a random letterset and unconnected to me, and i’m old enough to remember LP’s.

    a name might just be a name to the experts in the room but to the rest of the people (the consuming majority, let’s remember) it’s more than that. it gets inspirational and aspirational, it can tie the consumer into the product very intimately or distance them quite profoundly.

    in the case of goods and services, i think a name is never just a name… it’s a promise… or so the branding experts would tell us in almost every other case…

    hmm… iThinkAppleshouldhavethoughtlongeronthis.

  • Liebman

    I agree with you that iTunes LP is not up to Apple’s usual naming genius. Even if you’re old enough to understand what LP means, the analogy breaks down because you’re not really getting more music, just extra “stuff.”

    But put the LP discussion on hold for a minute. It gets even messier:

    Apple also offers iTunes Plus (a higher bit rate file of the exact same song) and iTunes Extras (special features such as movie stills, deleted scenes, exclusive interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage). What was once a simple 99-cent per song proposition has become more complicated.

  • the critic

    You old codgers. Take a look at any new interesting band from the last 10 years and you will see that they have released their stuff on vinyl too. Any real music fan – the people who are likely to buy the Apple LP stuff – are well aware of what it means and stands for. If you just want to buy The Sugababes single for 99 cents, that’s cool too.

  • ken segall

    @the critic

    Yep, vinyl has definitely been making a comeback in the last few years. But it’s hardly mainstream, and that’s the audience for iTunes. (How many are actually downloading the more expensive, higher-res versions of the songs?) Your point is valid, and I imagine it was part of Apple’s internal debate. Bear in mind, one could argue right back that iTunes LP is all about the art that was attached to the old LP, and not at all about the sonic quality of the LP itself — and quality is the reason behind vinyl’s comeback. So in that sense, iTunes LP is a misdirection.

  • also, while the LP feature looks fine on your 24″ iMac or other large screen… the whole promise of the iTunes platform was first and foremost the portability feature on the iPods… that’s what built the platform, look at the huge sales there. so the audience target seems to be as off as the naming, to me… and audio accuracy and high definition was never the point of this platform, was it?

    if something is designed to work only on one aspect of your digital experience (your large work/home screen), it seems to have closed down its value across the target market, no? can you picture this on a Nano?

    and while some musical efforts have been released on vinyl to support that segment, the vast majority is still CD and download delivery… i can name a handful of ‘interesting’ new bands that exist only on those 2 platforms and i have spoken to musicians that think vinyl is a waste of time as the world has rolled on and digital has much richer features to be had.

  • and let’s not even get into peer-to-peer… ;)

  • oy

    Since this is about technology and marketing, when are you going to sit down and write out a long piece about your take on Enfatico. No, not a gossipy tell all. More a perspective of why it hasn’t succeeded, maybe tell a story or two, just from one who is curious to know what the last song the dance band played on the Titanic.

  • ken segall


    Something tells me you followed the link here from my old friend George Parker’s blog. :) You know, George and I really were fellow creatives years ago. Those were the good old days — when he was only ranting on a one-to-one basis. I understand your curiosity about Enfatico, but I’ll pass. I’d rather keep this site focused on products, strategies and creative work — not on what’s right and wrong with ad agencies. I’ll leave that stuff to George.