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The iTunes Store at 10: How Apple reinvented the music business

Michael Gowan | April 29, 2013
As I write this paragraph, I'm enjoying a playlist that I created from among the thousands of songs on my iPhone, and it's no big deal. It wasn't always so simple: Once upon a time, crafting the perfect playlist for your MP3 player felt like an epic project. You had to rip the songs from a CD onto your computer, find sources--legitimate and otherwise--for tracks you didn't own, and then hope everything was in the right format to play on your portable device. Apple changed all that, thanks to a series of musical moves right at the dawn of the 21st century--not the least of which was the launch of the iTunes Music Store.

In the stream of things

With the iTunes Store, Apple took the existing physical record store model and made it digital. And while the iTunes Store is still about ownership, it's a transition technology, Mulligan says.

Analysts agree that the future of music lies not in ownership, but in access. In other words, you won't have a copy of a song on your device, but you'll stream it on demand when you want to hear it--essentially the model that Spotify, Rhapsody, and Rdio follow. Crupnick thinks that we're still five to ten years away from this becoming the standard, but it is coming.

What place does Apple and the iTunes Store have in this brave new world? Expect Apple to remain dominant in digital music for a long time to come. iTunes is now entrenched in the way that many people think about music.

Whether Apple creates a long-rumored streaming service of its own, or, through iTunes, it just continues to be the platform that other apps use to provide those services, it will remain in the middle of digital music in large part because it makes the devices that people use to listen--iPhones and iPods, especially.

When downloads go the way of 8-track tapes, we may not feel nostalgia for the files that consumed our drive space, but we should appreciate the role that the iTunes Music Store played in freeing us to listen to music when we want, where we want, and how we want.


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