Today in Apple history: iTunes becomes No. 2 music retailer in US


iTunes was going from strength to strength.
Photo: Apple

February 26: Today in Apple history: iTunes becomes No. 2 music retailer in U.S. February 26, 2008: Less than five years after launching, the iTunes Music Store becomes the No. 2 music retailer in the United States, second only to Walmart.

In that relatively short period, iTunes sells more than 4 billion songs to more than 50 million customers. The rapid rise to prominence stands as a massive achievement for Apple — and for the revolutionary digital distribution model Cupertino helped pioneer.

iTunes Music Store rises to the top

“We’d like to thank the over 50 million music lovers who have helped the iTunes Store reach this incredible milestone,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of iTunes, in a press release. “We continue to add great new features like iTunes Movie Rentals to give our customers even more reason to love iTunes.”

The iTunes Music Store debuted on April 28, 2003. At the service’s launch, digital music downloads were synonymous with theft. Pirate services like Napster drove a massive trade in illegal downloads, threatening the music industry’s future.

While iTunes remained an outsider in some senses, its rapid success reassured music business execs. Coupled with the revolutionary iPod music player, Apple’s increasingly popular online storefront proved there was a new way to sell music that was suited for the digital age.

Growing large enough to challenge Walmart, the biggest U.S. music retailer, was a massive achievement for iTunes.

Apple heads toward biggest music seller

The data putting Apple in second place behind Walmart came from the MusicWatch survey by market research firm The NPD Group. Because many iTunes sales were single tracks rather than albums, the firm calculated the figures by counting a CD as 12 individual tracks.

In other words, the iTunes Music Store model even affected the way the recording industry tallied sales, shifting the emphasis to songs rather than albums.

Apple’s rise to the top as a music retailer did not come as a total surprise. It seemed clear virtually from day one that iTunes would become big. By December 15, 2003, Apple celebrated its 25 millionth download. The following July, Apple sold its 100 millionth song.

By the third quarter of 2005, Apple cracked the top 10 music retailers in the United States. The iTunes Music Store still lagged behind Walmart, Best Buy, Circuit City and fellow tech company Amazon.

However, Apple’s position at the confluence of tech and the arts proved indomitable. And iTunes eventually became the single largest worldwide music vendor.

Today, Apple has sold many billions of songs, even as streaming services like Apple Music, which launched in 2015, and Spotify rose to dominate the industry. (Apple Music now publishes its own charts as playlists. Users can view things like the top 100 songs in the United States or the top 25 songs in major cities. And personalized Apple Music Replay  recaps show them their own most-played tracks.)

What was your first iTunes purchase? Let us know in the comments below.


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