A couple of weeks ago, news hit the internet with Apple’s decision to shut down iTunes for good. Even though it does not affect almost anyone in today’s music consumption landscape, it is the end of one of the essential pieces of the Record Industry history. Without extending too much, I thought it fair and respectful to remember this Media Player and say: farewell.
I know I am still really young (I was born in ’95), but I was lucky enough to experience and use the first generations of portable music players and virtual media libraries. Although it happened almost twenty years ago, I still remember how iTunes was there for it all: to download music, burn or store my CD library, and to upload those libraries to my MP3 player, later iPod and my first iPhone.
Right at the beginning of the 2000s, the record industry was facing the most significant threat in its history: free downloading. Experts warned the Labels, and the Labels ignored the power of file sharing. So naturally, in a matter of months, album sales dropped by thousands, while fans around the world downloaded unlimited amounts of songs catalogs for free through the internet. (We need to accept the fact that iTunes itself was being part of the Label’s threat by allowing people to burn these illegal songs into their own CD’s).
iTunes then became the last resort for a record industry that was going bankrupt. Record Labels, as well as Stores, could not compete against a “free” product, and they could not find a way to make people pay to own music. iTunes entered the scene as an unlikely savior, but with its strategy to sell the original “singles” for $0.99, made some people stick around for the satisfaction of spending money in quality audio.
Of course, Labels and Apple had their arguments over the pricing, but the Tech company had all the leverage on iTunes’ “single” pricing: it was either nothing for the labels or a portion of those 99¢. Just the fact that the power of the Record Industry was shifting towards a Technology company was a real pain for the Labels, but there was no turning back since Technology was exponentially going digital and CD’s or other physical products became obsolete.
The introduction of the iPod was another huge success and crucial element for iTunes’ success: Apple created the physical item needed to attract and retain new customers, and the iTunes-powered device became a must-have for the masses.
Through the years, iTunes hold on to the demands of the market, and without people noticing, it paved the way back for people to spend money on music and services. Just in terms of music-consumption practices, thanks to iTunes and how familiar it became, we are now willing to pay for streaming services that already hold millions of songs for us to choose from. Even though these platforms charge for the service provided instead of the song, iTunes made it possible by being the transitional factor from $0 to $0.99 to $10/month.
Of course, the problem with piracy and illegal downloads is not entirely solved up to date: there are new challenges both for Labels and artists in the virtual age, and streaming, even though is a great idea, is not the solution. We all still need to find a solution for the underpayment of artists, fake streams, and many other things. However, at least we are talking about some payment for recorded music, and we can thank iTunes for it.
So, so long old friend. We, who used you to digitize our CD libraries, upload the music to handheld devices, bought some “singles” or albums, will miss you. We will have to deal with the existence of the successor, “Apple Music,” but iTunes’ footprint will never leave our music hearts.
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