Over the last 10 years iTunes has become the dominant force in digital music sales and has gradually moved from being a loss leader to drive hardware sales to become a revenue center in its own right. Sunday is the 10th anniversary of the debut of iTunes and many in the overlapping worlds of tech and music are reflecting on that history.
Apple is celebrating their success with, among other things, A Decade of iTunes, a timeline featuring high points in the history of iTunes illustrating its growth from a music store to an ecommerce hub for a variety of digital products. The timeline was announced with a creative looking press release in print.
Yahoo Music Commissioned a Mike Doughty Song to Celebrate
Mike Doughty came up, appropriately enough, with a tune that celebrates drunken iTunes shopping. Enjoy!
My take on the history of iTunes in relationship to music is probably way oversimplified:
Digital music was a disruptive innovation. Digital formats were good enough for the web even though CDs and vinyl were much higher quality.
The major labels were totally baffled by digital music as they would be by any disruptive innovation as discussed by Clayton Christensen.
When they eventually recognized they needed to do something, Steve Jobs stepped in with iTunes as a solution and, given major label CEO's inadequate understanding of the reality they faced, managed to bargain them into accepting a price point and a platform that would ultimately define the parameters of digital music retail.
Eventually major label execs realized they were fucked and when they finally decided to work with streaming music startups they made sure that startups and the musicians were the one's getting fucked and so order was restored. They did this by demanding partial ownership and huge upfront fees for licensing while keeping their books to themselves and musicians in the dark.
Musicians have responded by grumbling about iTunes, getting outraged by payments from Spotify and generally buying into the major label smokescreen. Media has, as is usual, helped to increase confusion with inadequate coverage of this history.
That's my take but smarter more well informed industry analysts see things a bit differently.
Mark Mulligan presents The Four Ages of iTunes:
Baby Steps: On January 9th 2001 Apple launched its iTunes music management software, and later that year in November came the first ever iPod.
Changing the Tune: In April 2003 Apple launched the iTunes Music Store in the US, and then in 2004 in the UK, Germany, France and Canada, as well as an EU Store.
Beyond Music: When Apple was in the business of selling monochrome screen iPods, music was the killer app and iTunes was the marketing tool. But that changed on June 29 2007 with the launch of the iPhone.
The Platform Challenge: The App Store turned the iTunes Store into a platform, albeit it a highly controlled one.
Mulligan makes the case that despite competition from streaming music services one should not assume Apple cannot manage such challenges to remain the "preeminent force a decade from now."
Billboard's Alex Pham took a different route with Seven Ways iTunes Changed the Music Industry featuring quotes from key executives:
1. iTunes created the first legitimate digital music store that competed effectively with piracy.
2. iTunes + iPod turned digital music into a fashion statement.
3. Digital music became ubiquitous through the combination of iPods and iTunes.
4. iTunes leveled the playing field for independent labels and artists.
5. The 99-cent download became a standard price.
6. The economics of the single rose in importance.
7. Labels got paid faster – much faster.
Both are worth a closer read for their thoughtful, gentle and positive approach to analyzing the impact of iTunes on the industry.
So what is your analysis, Dear Hypebot Readers?
[Alternative iTunes icon thumbnail via Gizmodo contest.]
- iTunes Sales Are Making Apple Money, No Longer Just A Lure For Hardware
- iTunes Payments Account For 60% Of Total Digital Music Revenue
- iTunes Has Sold 25 Billion Songs, 15K Songs Per Minute
Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch/@crowdfundingm) also blogs at Flux Research and Crowdfunding For Musicians. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.