If Apple Computers had been founded over a hundred years ago, not by Steve Jobs, but by Sir Digby Chicken Caesar, iTunes might very well have looked like this: the theatrophone, an 1890s invention that allowed you to “download” music into your living room, just fifty centimes per song.
Essentially just a telephone hooked up to a stereo, the theatrophone allowed Victorian era music lovers to dial into the “cloud” of the central station for the Theatrophone Company, which broadcast live music throughout the day.
Like iTunes, it allowed you to “buy” music in song-sized microtransactions: fifty centimes would buy you five minutes of live music back in 1892. Also like iTunes, the Theatrophone would allow you to “subscribe” to new music as a sort of proto-RSS podcast: you could be alerted by mail to be told what times to tune in for certain types of music, or the latest and greatest tracks.
The cutting-edge of tech at the time, the Theatrophone system was actually remarkably intricate:
The theatrophone had 3 cables, 2 used for the transmission of music and the other for an alarm set for 5 minutes, keeping track of the listener’s time and changing theaters at each interval. If a listener happened to catch the live performance as it was ending or during an intermission, he would be wired into a different location for the remainder of time paid for. If all theaters were in an intermission, then the listener would be treated to recorded piano music so his money was not wasted.
There’s just no such thing as a new idea..