A decade of iTunes singles saved the music industry

Okay, as we’ve been doing periodically for the last decade, here we go again:

Adrian Covert writes for CNNMoney, “Believe it or not, Apple’s iTunes Music Store turns 10 this weekend. Although iTunes has in many ways been a godsend to fans of digital music, it has been a source of endless frustration for the music industry.”

MacDailyNews Take: Good.

“Since the introduction the iTunes Music Store on April 28, 2003, music sales have plummeted in the United States — from $11.8 billion in 2003 to $7.1 billion last year, according to the Recording Industry Association of America,” Covert writes. “When adjusted for inflation, revenue has been more than halved since Apple launched the iTunes Music Store.”

MacDailyNews Take: Where’s the proof that the cause was iTunes Store and not, say, torrent sites where everything is available for free? Covert offers no proof that iTunes Store did anything but create a legal alternative to theft. People pay for music at iTunes Store, dummy. Without iTunes Store, there would be no music industry as we know it left today.

Covert writes, “Interestingly, during that same time, people have been buying more music than ever. How is that possible? It’s because the iTunes Music Store popularized the cheap digital single.”

MacDailyNews Take: Oh, boo-f’ing-hoo, the music cartels can no longer hold good music hostage by bundling it with twelve throwaway tracks o’ crap and charging $15 for the forced bundle etched onto a 3-cent plastic disc in a 10-cent box with a 15-cent booklet. By giving customers the à la carte option, Apple gave music buyers the power and took it away from the forced bundlers.

Covert writes, “After manhandling the major record labels during a series of now-legendary negotiations, then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs was able to initially offer digital albums for $10 and any individual track off that album for 99 cents. That changed the music industry forever.”

MacDailyNews Take: They deserved to be manhandled (and more) for ripping consumers off for decades, for ignoring the Internet, and for positioning their industry for sure death. Steve Jobs saved the music industry — contrary to CNNMoney‘s actual load of BS headline, “A decade of iTunes singles killed the music industry.” We helpfully fixed their lie with our headline. You’re welcome, CNN. It makes you wonder, though, what else is CNN lying about?

Covert continues, “When music sales reached their peak in 2000, Americans bought 943 million CD albums, and digital sales weren’t even a blip on the radar. By 2007, however, those inexpensive digital singles overtook CDs — by a wide margin — generating 819 million sales to just 500 million for the CD.”

MacDailyNews Take: Again, thankfully and finally, Apple took the power from the forced bundlers and gave it to the consumers. In iTunes Store, consumers always retained the choice to purchase the entire bundle (album). The massive extent that they did not choose bundles only shows how ubiquitous and manipulative the music lables’ forced bundling had become. Apple gave the consumer the power to decide, they way they once did before the music cartels invented the artificial construct they called the “album” in order to force consumers to wildly overpay for what they really wanted.

Again, iTunes Store has always offered consumers the choice to purchase the entire bundle (album), if they so desire.

Covert writes, “The popularity and ease of downloading cheap digital singles has transformed the industry. Not since the vinyl era has the single been this popular. The smaller, cheaper “45” record dominated music in the 1950s and ’60s, but the music industry wised up in the ’70s. Vinyl, cassette and CD singles were always cheaper for consumers, but manufacturing costs were not. Nor was the space required to house them in stores. Thus, the single became harder and harder to come by. The reality is if singles were as available a decade ago as they are now, they would have been just as popular. Music nerds notwithstanding, the average music listener has really only cared about a few tracks off an album at most.”

MacDailyNews Take: Exactly. Schizo much, Adrian?

Covert writes, “Can music sales ever come back? Likely not, says NPD analyst Russ Crupnick. He believes musicians will have to increasingly rely on touring, merchandise sales and endorsement deals to make up for lost album sales.”

MacDailyNews Take: Music sales are where they are because Apple destroyed forced bundling, handing music consumers back control of their wallets, and because free (pirated) music abounds on the ‘Net.

The forced bundle album decades were an artificial bubble. The music cartels got hooked on fleecing their customers, among other things. Apple simply popped the bubble and returned the industry back to its beginnings.

Without Apple, there would be no music industry as we know it today. That there is, in the face of readily available piracy sources, is proof that a decade of iTunes singles saved the music industry. The music industry can generate more profits by making more tracks that people want to buy, not by forcing them to overpay for bundles they have unequivocally proven that they do not want. The music cartels will never get that type of power back again and that is A Very Good Thing™.

Covert writes, “Nevertheless, the iTunes Music Store’s effect on the way people buy music over the past 10 years has ensured that the music industry will never again be the same.”

MacDailyNews Take: Thank Jobs!

Full article, Think Before You Click™, here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Chris Renaldi” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
Album sales again hit record lows as sales of digital download sales continue to increase – August 27, 2010
Music labels forced anemic-selling ‘iTunes LP’ concept on Apple in exchange for DRM-free tracks – March 9, 2010
Apple: We do not charge a production fee for iTunes LP – October 13, 2009
Inside the new iTunes LP format – September 15, 2009
Apple’s new TuneKit framework (used in iTunes LP and iTunes Extras) has Apple TV written all over it – September 14, 2009
Apple releases iTunes 9; featuring iTunes LP, Home Sharing, Genius Mixes & more – September 09, 2009
Major music labels preparing new digital album format – August 11, 2009
Former Pink Floyd manager slams Apple’s iTunes Store for ‘debundling the album’ – November 19, 2008
Third Eye Blind vocalist: Albums are an arbitrary concept; unnecessary in digital age – October 21, 2008
Estelle quietly returns to Apple’s iTunes Store as Warner fails to force bundle (album) sales – September 10, 2008
Warner kills Estelle by pulling songs from Apple’s iTunes Store in attempt to force album sales – September 02, 2008
Apple iTunes Store’s ‘Complete My Album’ is a marketing tool – June 28, 2008
Jermaine Dupri: We made iTunes, not Apple; no more singles, buy albums or we’ll take them away! – November 27, 2007
Apple throws weight behind music cartel’s efforts to prop up faltering album format – March 29, 2007
Apple debuts new iTunes Store ‘Complete My Album’ service (advertising masquerading as a feature) – March 29, 2007
Apple plans iTunes credit for purchased singles if customers later buy album – March 26, 2007
WSJ: Music sales take sharp plunge – March 21, 2007


    1. The industry SHOULD be grateful. Before iTunes, i bought maybe one CD every three years or so because of all the songs I DIDN’T want to listen to. Now I buy music all the time.

    1. Totally agree Jean,
      Before iTunes, I had a couple dozen plastic albums around but almost never listened to them. Since iTunes I have gotten my love of music back. I have about 5000 songs on the computer and listen to some every day.

      Funny, since iTunes I have gotten into buying albums again but I buy some from iTunes (a few tracks) and some I still buy cps, but never when they first come out. I usually wait until they are in the bargain bin. I also have iTunes match so that my 8-16 gig iPhone / iPod can carry/access all the music most of the time and some of the music all the time.


      1. Get TuneIn radio, music all around the world for nothing, .99 if you want the pro version…. You can find all what you want: bach, beethoven… beatles…. 24/24 7/7….. And you can record?

  1. I buy albums when I feel there are going to be enough good songs on it to justify spending money on it – the same as I did before digital music. The only difference is now if I only like 1 song I will buy that song whereas before I never bought singles, and it was impossible to buy older songs as singles.

    I still buy cd’s but that only because sometimes they’re cheaper than iTunes, and even though I just put them onto iTunes then stick them in a box, I do prefer to actually own music.

    Bottom line, I buy more music than ever. As with most markets, the music market was changing and they needed to adapt and stop trying to foist rubbish on people and pretending it was good value.

  2. “He believes musicians will have to increasingly rely on touring, merchandise sales and endorsement deals to make up for lost album sales.”

    He conflates the plight of the musician with the plight of the RIAA. Musicians have always had to rely on those things. The Backstreet Boys went over two years before they saw the first dime from their record sales.


  3. Obama said it best last night at the White House Correspondence Dinner: ““I know CNN has taken some knocks lately but the fact is, I admire their commitment to covering all sides of the story, just in case one of them happens to be accurate.”

  4. The article completely ignores the reality of 2003:
    1. CD sales had been tanking since 1999
    2. Record companies had become completely homogenized.
    3. Napster and internet were killing the traditional music industry business model not the iTMS.
    4. The first iTunes Music Store was limited to Mac for 5 months
    5. The first iTunes Music Store had very limited selection.
    6. Everybody else, including the record companies, thot they could do an internet music store and failed. Some, like Microsoft, Sony and Walmart, failed several times.

  5. Also Streaming services cut down on sales too, not just iTunes Singles alone. In fact most stream off of YouTube or rip the tracks off of YouTube for free. Forget Torrent sites. Spotify I don’t think promotes sales of music when you have nearly everything for free.

  6. I am waiting for Apple to do to the movie industry and cable companies what they did to the music industry. Why can I not chose what channels or shows I want instead of being forced to having to pay for a bunch of channels I will never watch?

  7. Exactly! If only Apple had the power to pull the fangs of the CableCo regional monopolies out of the necks of the American consumer! Someday… someday…

  8. CD sales were expected to fall. The same occurred with vinyl, 8 tracks, casettes, and reel-to-reel. However, Apple is not to blame for deceasing profits. I may be biased but much of the music I hear today is far inferior to that I experienced in the decades of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

  9. I re-bought LOADS of music. My old vinyl discs, CD’s lost or that don’t lay, cassettes I couldn’t import into iTunes, old singles from my childhood. The music industry got lots of money from me that they would never have gotten and I had file sharing software.

  10. Who needs physical media anyway? Internet is the media. We’re in the digital age. I love music not plastic, papers. All I need is iTunes Match, and a clean house. lots of space not trash. thanks Apple.

    1. Who needs physical media? Well, anyone who has a catastrophic HDD crash, for a start. And if you’re happy with a low bitrate version of the music you had on CD, well bulky for you! I rip all my CD’s at 320Kb, although I do download single tracks and occasional albums at 256, there’s no way I’ll entrust all my music to something like Match, and there’s no way I’ll use any kind of streaming system, I spend too much time in places with zero network connection, where I want music available. I have my entire music ripped music collection, 155,000+ tracks, on my 160Gb Classic, but I’m holding out for a 256Gb Kingston WIFI enabled portable HDD, which I can stream locally to my phone when I travel.

  11. And if you think the record companiess mistreated their customers, they raped their musicians. The music makers, with very few exceptions, have always had to depend on concerts and the sales there. I know some musicians spent for 300 days a year on the road. Not an easy life.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.