Roaring iTunes success sees Apple sing out

16 Mar 2004

Apple’s iTunes online music service has passed the 50 million download mark, the company has said.

Digital music enthusiasts have bought and downloaded more than 50 million songs from the company’s iTunes Music Store since the service began in April last year. According to figures from Apple, iTunes users are now downloading 2.5 million songs per week, which is equivalent to an annual run rate of 130 million songs per year.

Apple sells music at a cost of 99 cents per song but the latest figures do not include a current promotion offer with Pepsi where Apple is giving away one million free songs. Complex music licencing arrangements have meant that Apple hasn’t launched the iTunes service in Europe yet.

The 50 millionth song, purchased last Thursday afternoon, was “The Path of Thorns” by Sarah McLachlan.

Uniquely in the digital music space, Apple has a foot in the hardware and software camps. The music it sells through the iTunes store is complemented by the company’s iPod and recently released iPod mini digital music players. Analysts have speculated that the music download service is currently a loss leader – not yet profitable but crucial in driving sales of the iPod devices.

The iTunes Music Store is now open to Windows and Mac users. Apple claims it is the largest online music catalogue, with more than 500,000 songs from over 150 bands and singers. All five of the ‘majors’ – the leading music companies – are represented on the iTunes site as well as some 300 independent music labels.

Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs couldn’t resist a dig at rivals when he referred to the news as “a major milestone for iTunes and the emerging digital music era”. He claimed: “It’s increasingly difficult to imagine others ever catching up with iTunes.”

That won’t stop them trying; as the music industry finally wakes up to the internet as an effective song delivery medium, rivals have been eyeing the space and preparing download services of their own. Apple’s tie-in with Pepsi is widely considered to be a response to Coca-Cola’s move into music sales with its site. Last week Richard Branson’s Virgin brand announced plans for a digital music jukebox service, to be launched in August.

Events are also taking shape locally: understands that a major Irish ISP is currently testing a music download service although it is not clear when it will be publicly launched.

By Gordon Smith