Apple Launched the iTunes Store 12 Years Ago Today
On April 28, 2003, the iTunes Music Store launched, promising a "revolutionary online music store" that would make it even simpler to fill those new-fangled iPods with all the latest hits from Ashanti, Nelly, and Nickelback.
The Store's original press release is filled with language that wasn't so different from that coming from the streaming services' like Spotify and Tidal. “Consumers don’t want to be treated like criminals, and artists don't want their valuable work stolen," said Steve Jobs in the announcement. "The iTunes Music Store offers a groundbreaking solution for both.”
Tidal's music and video exclusives are hardly a new idea -- back when Jobs was trying to lure people away from illegal downloads and CDs (yes, CDs), Apple was offering "exclusive tracks from over 20 artists, including Bob Dylan, U2, Eminem, Sheryl Crow and Sting, as well as special music videos from several of these artists which users can watch for free." Also interesting is the fact that this was explicitly promised "without subscription fees."
High audio quality was also a notable feature of the music on the iTunes Store, with downloads of "128 kilobits per second" for "faster download times while rivaling CD-quality sound" -- for contrast, Spotify's streaming bit rate is 320 kilobits per second for premium subscribers. The iTunes Store advertised "over 200,000 songs from music companies including BMG, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal and Warner" at its launch -- now it has over 43 million. By comparison, three weeks after its launch, Tidal has 25 million. (Those licenses had been secured by the company's previous owners.)
One notable difference is how careful Apple was to emphasize that the iTunes Store allowed customers to own music -- if they were going to switch from physical copies of their favorite albums, they had to be convinced that the music wasn't going to just disappear. The store offered, legally, "the revolutionary rights to burn an unlimited number of CDs for personal use, and to put music on an unlimited number of iPods for on-the-go listening," as Jobs put it. (At the time, labels were trying to prevent piracy by including various types of DRM software on album discs to prevent them from being copied or redistributed, a technique that was halted when Sony was discovered including invasive malware on audio CDs.)
Now the question of permanence is secondary to the question of access -- streaming or storing music in the cloud (see: iCloud) is almost a relief, particularly for our overburdened hard drives. As the IFPI's recent report on the global recording industry pointed out, downloads still account for a large portion of money made from digital music, but streaming is quickly catching up. Looking back at how Apple approached the very beginning of the digital music market shows both how much and how little has changed -- people still want to listen to the music they like as easily as possible (which usually means using legal avenues), while paying as little as possible.
Also, Jay, just a quick question -- how many CDs can you burn with Tidal?