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Subtle Snow Job?

September 25th, 2006

A lot of people seem to be presuming that the pricing of movies on the Apple iTunes Store is based upon how new they are–that new movies cost $15 and older titles are $10. Just to clear up a point, that’s not how they’re doing it. That was the rumor mill talking. Actually, Apple just has two-tier (actually, three-tier) pricing. If you look at the online store, you’ll see that some titles as far back as the 1940s are priced at $15, and some titles from just last year are priced at $10.

However, the misunderstanding is not wholly due to the rumor mill. You’ll note that Apple never actually says that new movies are $15 and old ones are $10–but when he introduced the service, Steve Jobs certainly made it seem that way. He said that new titles could be pre-ordered for $13, and would be priced at $15 after they were released–which makes it sound like the $15 pricing is reserved for new titles, but it’s not. Sure, all new titles do get that price, but a lot of older titles get it as well. Additionally, the $10 price range is applied to what Apple calls the “Library,” which again is unclear but sounds like we’re talking about older movies.

In fact, the two-tiered pricing simply applies in whatever way the movie studio decides. Disney has priced all of its animated features at $15, including decades-old titles like Dumbo, Cinderella, and The Aristocats. Meanwhile, poorly performing titles from 2005 such as The Brothers Grimm, Herbie: Fully Loaded, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are priced at $10.

So don’t expect to be able to get your favorite movies for $15, unless you like movies that most other people don’t. Apple didn’t exactly lie on this one, but they did mislead–though there might be a reason beyond sales to explain it. Jobs has long tried to protect his coveted one-price-fits-all philosophy for online sales, while the movie industry has tried to get him to do tiered pricing, a more whatever-the-market-will-bear philosophy. Jobs lost on this one, and it may have been a bitter pill to swallow; the “new releases” angle may have been a bit of face-saving in that regard.

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