Boom Boom Wow

26 02 2010

Ten billion. That’s 10,000 million. Or 10,000,000,000. No matter how you display, it, that’s one huge number.

It’s also how many songs Apple’s iTunes has now sold. If songs were seconds, it would take 115,741 days to count them. Or 317 years.

A 3-minute song is about 3MB digitally, which means a 40GB iPod would hold 13,333 songs. To date this means iTunes’ sales could completely fill 750,000 of those iPods.

And when you consider that each song costs, on average, $0.99, you quickly realize why Apple’s stock continues to hover around $200 per share. Cha-ching.

iTunes has been around since 2001, the same year the iPod was introduced. It took a while for it to get traction, simply because it involved a major paradigm shift for consumers. We were in the midst of a music piracy revolution the likes of which Somalia has never seen in its waters. Slowly but surely, though, iTunes gained the financial and musical affection of listeners, and is now the biggest music retailer in the US.

This is a case study in consumer behavior writ large. The evidence is not just in the sales numbers, but in the list of iTunes’ Top 20 downloads. Consider these songs:

  1. I Gotta Feeling, Black Eye Peas
  2. Poker Face, Lady GaGa
  3. Boom Boom Pow, Black Eyed Peas
  4. I’m Yours, Jason Mraz
  5. Viva la Vida, Coldplay
  6. Just Dance, Lady GaGa\
  7. Low, Flo Rida (featuring T-Pain)
  8. Love Story, Taylor Swift
  9. Bleeding Love, Leona Lewis
  10. Tik Tok, Kesha
  11. Disturbia, Rihanna
  12. So What, Pink
  13. I Kissed a Girl, Katy Perry
  14. Single Ladies, Beyonce
  15. Hot N Cold, Katy Perry
  16. Stronger, Kanye West
  17. Live Your Life, T.I.
  18. Hey There Delilah, Plain White T
  19. Right Round, Flo Rida
  20. Party in the U.S.A., Miley Cyrus

Notice something? Only one song in this list was released before 2007. In Gladwellian terms, 2007 represents the tipping point for iTunes, because that’s when it not only got traction, but exceeded the speed limit. It says that we have embraced the idea of paying for our music. It says that we really like the iTunes experience. It says that we are, like it or not Microsoft, endeared to Apple.

And it says that we are now raising a generation of consumers who buy their music online just like I once went to Sears to buy my 45s.

It’s not the case that pop music suddenly got better than it was in 2001. Far from it. My 70s musical sensibilities are offended daily, but no one seems to care. Black Eyed Peas? I thought that’s what southerners eat on New Year’s Day.

It just means that the revolution has not only begun, it has won the battle. I speak from experience. My 12-year-old daughter has painlessly made the transition from CDs to iTunes, and knows that this is the only way she is going to get any future music. About once a week she looks up at me with sad puppy dog eyes and asks, “Can we buy more music today?”

I am the Keeper of the iTunes Password in this household, and although I am a crusty old curmudgeon in demographic terms, I know most of those songs on the Top 20. Because I have bought them. For her. She then tells me to get lost so she can sync them with her iPod. Sheesh, Dad.

While there will always be music piracy in the iTunes era (it’s just a high-tech version of shoplifting, you know), the rest of us, old and young alike, will be buying our music in stores that don’s have walls. Don’t have inventory. And never close.

There will be new artists, and no doubt the Top 20 downloads of today won’t even crack the Top 100 ten years from now. BEP will be a distant memory, Jason Mraz will be an old man, and nextgen kids will be asking “Beyonce who?”

As for my daughter, I’ve already told her we can download some music tonight. We’re doing our part for the 11th billion. She’s carefully editing her list of must-haves. She’s previewing snippets on iTunes. And she’s managing her playlists like a seasoned pro.

Because tonight’s gonna be a good night.

Dr “I Gotta Feeling” Gerlich



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