The iTunes Effect
About a decade ago, before she was married to my brother, my sister-in-law called to ask my advice about a gift.
My sister-in-law: “I’ve finally thought of the perfect gift to get your brother for Christmas—an iPod!”
Me: “That’s a great idea! But won’t it be expensive to dock it at a marina?”
Oh, how times change. And people—willing or not—change right along with them.
I remember those long-ago days when my brothers and I would ride our bikes down to Mazza Gallerie in Friendship Heights. Inevitably, we would end up in one of two stores: Kron Chocolatier or the Disc Shop.
While Kron never ran out of chocolate, the Disc Shop frequently ran out of chart-topping music. Far too often, we would arrive only to find that the album we had come to purchase was sold out. By the time a new shipment arrived, my brothers and I had either moved on to another artist or had spent the money playing PacMan.
The moral of the story can be summed up with two words: lost profits.
When Apple created iTunes and revolutionized every aspect of music sales—even crossing the figurative line to make it available on PCs—the enormous potential for earnings and profit margins quickly became clear. Ten years have passed since iTunes first launched, and their 2011 second quarter profit was 1.4 billion dollars.
I don’t know how music stores could realistically compete with the full marketplace access, the 24/7 “store” hours, and the ease-of-use that iTunes delivers.
Train sold 4,310,000 copies of “Hey, Soul Sister” in 2010, becoming the second biggest selling digital song of that year. In January 2011, alone, they sold another 700,000 digital copies.
Would those numbers have even been possible back in the days of the Disc Shop?
In 2010, iTunes crossed the 10,000,000,000 mark for downloaded songs. Ten billion. No wonder their stock is trading at $400 per share.
The genius of applying the digital model to books is one I resisted acknowledging for the first few years it existed. You see, I’m a book nut; I was born this way. I love to see books stacked on my desk, on my nightstand, on my shelves. I love to feel the weight of them in my hands, to smell the ink on the pages, to mark a favorite place by turning down the corner of the page.
Then it happened: I became a Kindle owner. I downloaded more than 70 books the very first day. Yes, I was a maniac. (Note to Kindle design team: You should add an option to buy all books from a particular author at the press of a button. Readers will save time and you’ll sell even more ebooks.)
The very idea of ebooks someday reaching 10,000,000,000 downloads—and, through it, opening up whole new worlds for readers—is mind-blowing. Although, based on one article I found, some speculate that most of the downloaded books will be about heaving bosoms.
While writing this post, I took a break, opened up my iTunes and scanned the list of genres I’ve collected. They include Alternative, Blues, Classical, Country, Electronica, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Latin, New Age, Pop, R&B, Soul, Rock, and, naturally, Eighties.
I’m looking forward to Kindle having as broad an effect on my reading tastes as iTunes has had on my music preferences.