Today in Apple history: iTunes hits 1 million downloads in first week

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iTunespic
iTunes becomes an instant hit.
Photo: Apple

May 5: Today in Apple history: iTunes Music Store hits 1 million downloads in first week May 5, 2003: Just a week after launching the iTunes Music Store, Apple reaches an incredible milestone with more than 1 million songs sold.

Particularly notable is the fact that more than half the songs purchased are albums. This quickly dispels fears that selling tracks individually will kill the record industry’s dominant format. In addition, more than half of the 200,000 songs initially available on iTunes get downloaded at least once.

It’s a roaring success for Apple’s newest venture!

“In less than one week we’ve broken every record and become the largest online music company in the world,” said Steve Jobs in a statement. “Apple has created the first complete solution for the digital music age — you can purchase your favorite music online at the iTunes Music Store, mix your favorite tracks into playlists with iTunes, and take your entire music collection with you everywhere with the super-slim new iPods.”

iTunes: Breaking records by selling records

When the iTunes Music Store opened, there were no guarantees it would work. File-sharing services like Napster had fueled a boom in illegal music downloads. Skeptics questioned whether people would pay 99 cents per track in exchange for an attractive user experience (and a legal transaction).

Although Jobs convinced the heads of the “Big Five” labels — BMG, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal and Warner — to sell their music on iTunes, the execs remained concerned the move would eat into CD sales.

iTunes Music Store becomes a surprise success

The surprise of the labels at iTunes’ success came across in their officially sanctioned statements, issued by Apple.

“Hitting one million songs in less than a week was totally unexpected,” said Roger Ames, Warner Music Group’s chairman and CEO. “Apple has shown music fans, artists and the music industry as a whole that there really is a successful and easy way of legally distributing music over the internet.”

Universal Music Group CEO Doug Morris also hailed the iTunes milestone.

“Our internal measure of success was having the iTunes Music Store sell one million songs in the first month. To do this in one week is an over-the-top success,” said Morris. “Apple definitely got it right with the iTunes Music Store.”

To celebrate the news, Apple said iTunes would add more than 3,200 new tracks. (That included an exclusive song and music video by Coldplay.)

Within six months, the number of songs in the iTunes Music Store doubled.

iTunes downloads soar

Apple went on to obliterate download records, with the rate of sales only increasing. By December 15, 2003, the iTunes Music Store hit its 25 millionth download. By the following July, Apple sold its 100 millionth song. Today, Apple has sold north of 40 billion songs.

Apple later augmented its digital offerings by adding downloadable TV shows, music videos, movies and — later — apps.

Were you an early iTunes adopter? Leave your comments below.