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Apple gets flexible with Depeche Mode

February 24, 2009 |  5:05 pm

Apple introduced yet more pricing flexibility today at the iTunes Store, unveiling the "iTunes Pass." It's a cross between an enhanced album bundle and a pig in a poke: Pass purchasers are entitled to a bunch of items -- some known in advance, some not -- released by an artist over a period of time. If this all sounds a bit vague, that's because it is. The target market is the consumer who wants everything an artist releases, the sort of person who will pay an annual fee for the privilege of being in a band's fan club. As with the "deluxe editions" released by so many artists these days, the point is to extract more revenue from the most devoted subset of the audience. The crucial difference between an iTunes Pass and, say, the $75 version of Nine Inch Nail's "Ghosts I-IV" is consumers know what they're getting from the latter, but there's some mystery about the former.

The first version is from British New Wave graybeards Depeche Mode, whose musical career is nearing the end of its third decade. Dependable and sometimes remarkable, the band is offering a pass built around its forthcoming album, "Sounds of the Universe," which is due April 21. The 15-track album sells for $10; the iTunes Pass sells for $19. Nice margin! Here's the official release from the band's record company, EMI. So, what do you get for the extra $9? Right away, you get immediate access to the album's first single, "Wrong," and a bonus track on the LP, the Black Light Odyssey Dub version of "Oh Well." Over the next four months -- the pass extends until June 16 -- you'll receive "extended singles, remixes, videos and more." There is the possibility of exclusive content but no guarantee. Besides, nothing released in digital form stays exclusive for long.

My first impression was that Apple was dipping its toes into the subscription-music market that Steve Jobs had mocked so often. Forrester Research analyst Mark Mulligan had a similar thought.

Read more Apple gets flexible with Depeche Mode

-Jon Healey

Photo: Depeche Mode earlier this year announces its 2009 tour. Credit: Miguel Villagran / Associated Press