Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Apple: Billions of Songs, Billions of Apps, Not Much Profit

Apple is patting itself on the back for delivering 10 billion songs from its iTunes Store. And it frequently boasts about the number of apps customers download from iTunes, as well–the tally is now past three billion.

But you won’t hear Apple boast about how much money it’s making from iTunes. Because there’s not much to boast about.

Even at today’s hyper volume, the digital store is still running at “a bit over break-even,” the company reminded analysts during its earnings call last month.

Here’s the relevant excerpt from that call, via Seeking Alpha (thanks to Venrock’s David Pakman for pointing this out yesterday at the Digital Music Forum East):

Maynard Um–UBS
We have seen a number of industry revenue forecasts for applications and just given kind of the expected explosive growth there I am just wondering if that is still a break-evenish type of business as you look forward over the next couple of years?…

[Apple CFO] Peter Oppenheimer
…Regarding the App Store and the iTunes stores, we are running those a bit over break even and that hasn’t changed. We are very excited to be providing our developers with a fabulous opportunity and we think that is helping us a lot with the iPhone and the iPod touch platform.

As Oppenheimer says, this isn’t a new development. Apple (AAPL) has always maintained that iTunes wasn’t a real money maker. It’s supposed to help sell iPods, iPhones, and soon, iPads.

For years, industry observers figured that as the iTunes business scaled, this would change. An alternate theory, held by some of Apple’s media partners–the company was being overly modest about its success.

Apple doesn’t break out iTunes sales, but lumps them into a category called “Other music related products and services,” which generated net sales of $4 billion last year. That’s an increase of 21 percent over 2008, and the company attributed this growth to “increased net sales of third-party digital content and applications from the iTunes Store.”

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— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”