The sound of music: iTunes store turns 10

The Beatles catalog is displayed on Apple's iTunes on November 16, 2010.

I can't remember the last time I bought music on anything other than iTunes. But music industry veteran Larry Miller says to appreciate iTunes impact on the industry, you have to take a trip back in the time machine.

"Go back with me, if you will, to the time before iTunes," Miller said.

He said in 2000, the music industry was making money hand-over-fist from CDs. Remember those? 

A number of CDs that year that sold a million copies or more in the first week including Britney Spears, Miller said.
 The boy pop bands were ringing up CD sales too.

Something else was happening. The file-sharing-site Napster was getting popular, and lots of young listeners were downloading music for free.  

Ultimately, the industry sued Napster out of existence, but it also missed what was coming.

"They couldn’t imagine a time when anyone would ever pay for music acquired over the Internet," Miller said. "They just couldn’t see it."

When they did see it, record labels tried to sell music online, but their efforts failed because it wasn’t user friendly.

"You almost needed an advanced degree in computer science to listen to download and listen to legal music," Miller said.

Then in 2001, the iPod was introduced and the mp3 player was on the road to becoming a mass-market sensation, said Ted Cohen, who was working on the digital music-side at EMI then.

"Steve Jobs called all the music companies and said, 'I think there’s a business here for people to buy downloads'," Cohen said.

Cohen remembers flying up to Cupertino, where Jobs and his team showed off the iTunes store. He says, the a-ha moment came when it took one click to buy a song.

"It didn’t feel like I was buying anything. I was just getting music," Cohen said.

At 99 cents a song, consumers clicked and clicked again. Today, iTunes has sold more than 25 billion songs.

As for the iTunes impact on the music industry?

Bill Werde is the editorial director at Billboard. He says even iTunes couldn’t stop the digital music revolution from taking a big bite out of business. But he says, it helped stop the bleeding.

"I think it’s a mixed review, ultimately, the effect iTunes has had," he said.

Werde says it also pushed the music industry to embrace the Internet.

Instead of fighting YouTube and streaming music sites like Spotify and Pandora, they welcomed them as ways to make money. And Werde adds that after a decade of gloom, he’s finally seeing a glimmer of optimism in the industry.



Take a look at the history of iTunes with this interactive timeline.



About the author

Queena Kim covers technology for Marketplace. She lives in the Bay Area.

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