ITunes may be down, but Apple says music sales are not on the way out

Quick quiz…Name the first song you bought and downloaded off iTunes. And let’s be honest, it probably was iTunes where you bought your first, legal song download. In my case, it was The Replacements’ “Tim” album, with the great leadoff track “Left Of The Dial.”

The iPod came out in October 2001, the iTunes Music store not long after. Then, after Apple opened up iTunes to Windows-based PCs, the combination ¬†became so powerful that Apple turned into the world’s biggest music retailer without ever stocking a single physical CD or vinyl record.

But just like downloads overtook CDs, which overtook cassettes, and which themselves overtook vinyl albums as the preferred method to listen to music, downloads are being replaced, and quickly, by streaming music.

So, it is within that environment that Digital Music News, which, as the name implies, follows the digital music industry, reported this week that Apple plans on throwing in the towel on downloadable music sales within the next few years. Digital Music News cited unnamed sources as saying Apple has put timetables in place for getting rid of paid music downloads anywhere between two and four years from now.

In a way, it’s strange that as the storage levels of iPhones and other smartphones have increased (You can get an iPhone with 128 gigabytes of storage if you want. That’s 2,460 percent more than the 5GB available in the first iPhone), the desire to stuff them with as much downloaded music as possible is beginning to slip. For instance, last year, the Recording Industry Association of America reported that downloaded music made up $2.33 billion in U.S. digital sales, while streaming music revenue reached $2.41 billion, making 2015 the first year that streaming music sales surpassed downloaded revenue.

Download sales also fell 9.6 percent, while streaming revenue grew almost 29 percent between 2014 and 2015.

But Apple is saying “not so fast” to the tune that it is going to discontinue sales of music downloads.

According to Recode, when asked about the possibility that Apple would pull the plug on selling downloadable music, Tom Neumayr, an Apple spokesman said, “Not true.” Apple may have a good reason for continuing to sell music downloads. It does seem like a couple of times a year, there is a big release that blasts sales numbers out of the water. The latest example of that was Drake’s new album “Views,”¬†which sold more than 1 million copies in the first week it was available, and was also exclusively on iTunes and the Apple Music streaming for a week starting April 29.

The may also be a nostalgia factor at work with Apple holding on to selling downloadable music. After all, it could be argued that it was the iTunes Store, along with the iPod, that really turned Apple around and set it on the path to becoming the world’s most valuable company.

And since we are being nostalgic about a technology that is barely 15 years old, were you able to name that first download you bought off iTunes?

Photo: iTunes screenshot (Apple)


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  • Mos Def

    Can we start up Napster again?