iTuned in

13 Jan 2005

It was noon last Friday when I sent a text message to my contact at Apple: “10 songs purchased!” Less than a minute later I received his response: “It was u then!” It was clear that Apple’s local management was keeping an eye on the first day of trading at the long-awaited iTunes music store for Ireland.

Backtrack a few months to when Apple announced that it had opened an iTunes music store simultaneously in eight other countries in Europe and that it had struck an historic deal with one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, U2.

U2’s historic deal with Apple to release a co-branded iPod as well as the industry’s first digital box set featuring the Irish band’s entire back catalogue hit an unexpected hitch in the band’s home country.

Out of all the high-tech purchases this Christmas, including digital cameras and mobile phones, 2004 was to be the year of the iPod. Imagine people’s surprise over the Christmas to discover that they could not download songs from iTunes for that new music player. It is understood that copyright negotiations with the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) concerning copyright and royalty collection were unconcluded at the time of the unveiling of the EU iTunes Music Store, preventing Irish iPod owners from either buying U2’s new album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, or buying the new digital box set.

Three months later, a deal has finally been struck between Apple and the IMRO, and at 12am last Friday the iTunes store for Ireland opened for business. Through iTunes, Irish music lovers can access more than 700,000 tracks for 99 cent a song or an entire album for €9.99. The store contains a number of exclusive tracks from well-known Irish artists, including The Pogues, The Corrs and U2.

The introduction of the iPod by Apple globally has been an unprecedented success and it is believed that the music maker now sells more music players than computers. Meanwhile iTunes has been viewed by many as one of the few solutions to the quandary the music industry now finds itself in.

With the advent of Napster in the late Nineties, while the music industry was more intent on suing college students instead of coming up with a new business plan, Apple decided to get smart and come up with the ingredients for the future viability of the music industry. In December, a US-based music purchaser downloaded the 200 millionth track from iTunes since its launch. The song was a track from the
400-song digital box set The Complete U2 and was purchased by Ryan Alekman from Massachusetts. It is fitting that in these days of digital media, the company that ignited the PC revolution in the Seventies is helping to save the entertainment sector in 2005.

I normally carry a digital music player in my car or on the train and can automatically choose between 4,000 songs at any time. One of the realities of digital music is that with choice, you can very easily get bored with your present collection so I am always on the lookout for new music. I am also one of those people nauseated by the high price of CDs in most music stores. Therefore, my first experience of iTunes was a pleasant one.

When you connect your iPod to your computer there is an icon on the menu for Music Store. I hit the icon and chose the store for Ireland. Within 15 minutes I had signed up, inputted my credit card details and was well on my way to acquiring music. Searching for songs on iTunes can be done in numerous ways: by genre, by search or through checking the various features on the store such as exclusive AOL sessions prepared for iTunes or special EPs prepared by bands. As well as music, users can also buy audiobooks, gift
certificates as well as check out music videos and movie trailers.

Within half an hour of signing up to iTunes I had downloaded 10 tracks from artists ranging from Cat Stevens to the B-52s, the Waterboys and Fun Loving Criminals.

The simplicity and ease of purchasing tracks will make this a sure-fire hit with Irish music buyers sick of the high prices of CDs. Because every song is 99 cent, it may also attract an entire audience of music lovers who have participated in the illegal sharing of music files through peer-to-peer networking to the right side of the law. This time it’s legal and you won’t be exposing your computer to hackers or viruses.

On the downside, while the store has more than 700,000 tracks at its disposal, there are some glaring omissions in the catalogue perhaps due to the various deals struck between Apple and music labels. For example, a quick search for music by The Beatles yielded no joy. Neither did my search for music by up and coming New Zealander Bic Runga.

Despite this, the iTunes music store is a godsend to an emerging market of music buyers the world over who value speed and simplicity and who may now only grace expensive high-street music stores in exceptional circumstances.

By John Kennedy