"Some people say Apple unbundled the album. In my mind, it had already been unbundled by piracy. So why not do it in a way in which we get paid? That's what iTunes really did."
― Doug Morris, CEO of Sony Music Entertainment
In an era plagued with notorious musical fat cats who would strong-arm the competition with their stacks of greens, and the seemingly unstoppable pirates who would relentlessly steal from the artists and labels, Apple iTunes came as a godsend. Steve Jobs had a complete vision that began with the iTunes - a digital store that would provide all the music that the user wanted, and the iPods, iPads, iPhones etc., where this music could be downloaded and played.
Since its inception in 2003, iTunes has managed to completely redefine the music industry. Steve Jobs, the then-Apple CEO, literally manhandled the major record companies, extracting from them some of the most legendary deals and negotiations which completely altered the economics of music, snubbed online piracy, and did so much more.
In the following lines, we shall learn about the impact that iTunes has had on the music industry, and all the changes that it has brought about over its more than decade-long reign.
How iTunes Revolutionized the Music Industry
1) It Allowed the User to Pick His/Her Song
In the music industry, one can find many artists who are what can be best described as one-hit-wonders. Like firecrackers, they burst into the scene illuminating it with the dazzling brightness of their hit number. However, the glow of their glory is short-lived, rarely exceeding the boundaries of that one hit song.
Now imagine having to buy an entire album full of mediocre and even plain bad songs, just to savor that one good song! You would be literally spending on music you didn't want. Makes no sense, right? Well that was the way the music industry operated before iTunes came along.
When the iTunes music store opened its digital shutters in 2003, it allowed music lovers to download and pay for only the song which they liked, without forcing them to buy the whole album against their will. Thus, it gave the power of choice to the consumers.
2) It Provided Unlimited Access to Infinite Music
Before the advent of iTunes, music was largely dispersed and usually difficult to obtain. It used to be that, you would listen to a song over the radio or see it on MTV, and then you would go out hunting for it in music stores. If you were lucky, you would find the album you wanted, else you would have no choice but to note it down and pray that it came to your neighborhood store someday in the near future. All this changed when iTunes arrived.
God put the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, and Mr. Jobs planted iTunes―the tree of music―in the Gardens of the Internet. All you need to do is bite into the 'apple' from it, and you are able to access an unlimited amount of music. And the best part - it ain't no sin! Thanks to iTunes, you have all the music you want right at your fingertips.
3) Made Convenience the Undisputed Champion
With iTunes, like Morpheus in Matrix, Mr. Steve Jobs presented us with two pills. The blue one represented audio quality and ensured that we would get the best of it, but only if we were ready to wait until the CD album was out. The red one, on the other hand, promised us the convenience of having our choice of music whenever and wherever we wanted, albeit at a slightly lesser quality. Guess what, most of us took the red one!
For many years, the music industry had been chasing audio quality, thinking that it would motivate music lovers to purchase more. However, Jobs knew that convenience beats quality every time. We, the consumers, want our music right here, right now. And even though it isn't as sparkling bright as the quality of a CD, the compressed audio at iTunes store is still more than enough to satisfy the ear-buds of everyone, but the audiophiles (a rare minority) amongst us.
4) It Signaled the End of Album Art
Back in the day, as much thought would be given to the album cover as to its actual content. This album cover was what defined the album, the artist, and the music. It was art, album art!
However, when iTunes trained its guns on the albums, intending to free its imprisoned songs, there was sure to be some collateral damage. In the shootout that followed, the songs were rescued. However, the album art became a casualty, and is now nearly extinct.
Today, album art exists only as minuscule covers on iTunes, which are about the same size as an app icon. iTunes does offer booklets, images, and videos, but you can't frame them and hang them on your walls, the way album art used to be hung.
5) It Brought the Fight to the Pirates
In the late '90s and early 2000s, the Internet had begun spreading its 'web' wider, as more and more people started realizing its potential and usefulness. Online laws, rules and regulations, however, didn't keep up with this exponential growth, and back then, were muddy at best. As such, online pirates literally had a heyday, ripping and distributing music over the Internet.
Artists and record companies tried to fight back as much as they could, but considering the thousands of websites that offered free music downloads, the war was certain to be lost. In these dire circumstances, Apple introduced iTunes, which effectively turned the tables against piracy.
iTunes was the first legitimate digital music store. It offered a whole variety of music at appreciable quality, and at very reasonable rates. Users could directly transfer and manage music from iTunes to iPods, iPhones, etc., very affordably and conveniently, which motivated people to pay for the music that they downloaded. So successful was Apple, that the combination of an iPod powered by iTunes literally became a fashion statement among everyone.
6) iTunes Was the Equalizer
Before iTunes, successful artists and large record labels would rule and control the consumer market, with an iron fist! They would pour out the greens and make deals with large retailers and distributors, literally buying out the shelf-spaces in stores. This was a very bad situation for smaller labels and less successful independent artists, whose music, no matter how deserving, could hardly find the audience it deserved.
iTunes leveled the battle grounds and became the equalizer. There was no longer any scope of buying out shelf-spaces in this digital store. It was all about the music, and the ones who were able to make great music got promotional space parallel to the bigwigs of the music industry. Thus, via iTunes, small artists and labels could effectively compete against the giants of the industry.
7) It Introduced the Flat 99-cent Price 8) It Made Music Distribution Economical
With iTunes, Steve Jobs brought about a paradigm shift in the economics of the music industry. Firstly, he ensured that every song would be sold as a single, and secondly, that its price would be a flat 99 cents. This irked the big artists and record labels, as they felt that the price of a song should be determined according to the popularity that it was gaining.
However, Jobs remained firm, and with the growing success of iTunes, the dissenting members of the music industry had no other choice but to comply. In the end, the new economics featuring 'singles' at 99 cents a piece became the standard norm.
Prior to iTunes, the main mode of distribution of music was through CDs. This process involved shipping, tracking, stealing, and even the breaking of CDs, all of which culminated in a lot of loss to the record labels and distributors.
iTunes completely eliminated these uneconomical aspects of physical distribution, by transferring music into the digital world, where distribution happens over the Internet, and is almost instantaneous, risk-free, and most economical.