Hands up who expected Apple to buy a classical music record label famed for championing the underdog, focusing on sonic excellence and unearthing obscure gems? Me neither.
If you'd asked me yesterday I'd have said there was as much chance of that as of Apple acquiring the catalog of Glasgow indie-pop trio Bis. Nonetheless, 24 hours later, Apple has acquired the similarly named but rather different BIS Records, which means it's now releasing classical music as well as streaming it on Apple Music.
Everybody seems very pleased. BIS is something of a legend in classical music circles, and having it under Apple's umbrella means its future could be very bright. BIS Records founder Robert von Bahr says that: "Apple, with its own storied history of innovation and love of music, is the ideal home to usher in the next era of classical."
"Apple and BIS also share a fundamental belief in the importance of preserving audio quality. As you are all aware, BIS has always been about exceptional sound quality, and Apple's dedication to sound, as well as to Spatial Audio, is something I have followed with interest," he adds.
This is a big deal for Apple too, because right now classical streaming is tiny among the best music streaming services. While most of the world's pop, rock and rap music is streamed, most classical isn't. So this purchase makes Apple's classical offering more compelling by adding some very prestigious content. It's also doing it at a time when the market has lots of growth potential, especially compared to the saturated market for mainstream music.
Opinion: Apple's making music now
Owning a record label may be new for Apple but it's not new for the electronics industry. Linn, makers of audiophile turntables and many more high-end products, got so annoyed by the poor quality of vinyl records in the early days of CD that they bought their own pressing plant, founded their own record label and released one of the greatest pop records of all time, The Blue Nile's A Walk Across The Rooftops.
The acquisition also brings BIS's younger and emerging artists to Platoon, Apple's platform for artists to produce and distribute their work directly rather than going through traditional record labels. Apple acquired the service in 2018 but has been keeping it fairly quiet ever since: you can't download the app, which wasn't launched until late 2022, without an invite from Apple.
I think it's worth remembering Tim Cook's famous quote: Apple has a "long-term strategy of owning and controlling the primary technologies behind the products we make". These days, content is of increasing importance to Apple. Could Apple be working on a long-term strategy of wanting to own and control the content behind the services it streams? It already does with Apple TV Plus which, like Linn Records, is all about quality rather than quantity. Could Apple Music start featuring Apple music?
You can be confident that industry insiders will be watching Apple carefully to see if it starts giving the BIS catalog undue prominence. And I think some insiders will be wondering: who's next?
This isn't the first time the music business has been talking about Apple's musical ambitions beyond making hardware, software and stores or annoying people with unwanted U2 albums. Many industry watchers expected Apple to buy a much bigger music group over a decade ago: Universal Music Group, home to stacks of record labels and giants such as U2, Lil Wayne, Keith Urban, Justin Bieber, Coldplay... you get the idea.
That's not the only rumor that's been swirling around about Apple and entertainment. The other, newer and oft-repeated rumor (or wishful thinking) is that Apple is considering buying The Mouse House itself, Disney. Disney's big but Apple's even bigger. Where Disney's market cap is about $147 billion today, roughly three times that of Universal Music Group, Apple's is $2.86 trillion. Apple could afford to buy both in much the same way you or I can afford to buy a waffle.
The question isn't whether Apple is getting into the entertainment business. It's already an entertainment company. The question is: how much of the entertainment business does it want to have in-house?
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Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.