iTunes Won't Reach Forecast

Launched with a bang last April, Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store has steadily gained popularity with music fans, but it won't reach its projected goal of selling 100 million songs online within its first year.

iTunes has sold 50 million songs over the Internet since its inception, the Cupertino, CA–based computer pioneer announced March 15. At the current rate of 2.5 million songs a week, Apple should have sold "70 million to 75 million songs" by the end of April 2004, according to CEO Steve Jobs.

iTunes were selling briskly back in September, at the rate of 500,000 a week, rising to 1.5 million a week in December. In adding up its legitimate sales, Apple isn't including 100 million promotional recordings available through a joint deal with PepsiCo. In January, some analysts were predicting that iTunes sales could go as high as 130 million during its first year of operation. The total will fall far short of that, but Jobs stated that he was "thrilled" nonetheless with music fans' acceptance of the service.

Bucking half-hearted efforts of music industry-backed online startups like MusicNet and pressplay, Apple broke open the market for online music and still leads an increasingly crowded field as retailers and record labels scramble to make their wares available online. By comparison, the revived Napster sold only five million recordings from October through February. "Apple is still dominating the online music market," Needham & Co analyst Charlie Wolf told the Wall Street Journal.

Apple's advantage lay in a core of dedicated, Internet-savvy users and the simultaneous launch of the iPod portable music player. More than two million units of the sleek, versatile device have been sold in the past year, and the new iPod Mini is doing big box office as well, with initial orders backlogged as far as three weeks.

Rarely mentioned in the hype about iTunes and the iPod is the total cost of accumulating a substantial library of downloaded recordings—at 99¢ per song, a loaded iPod could contain $10,000 worth of music. That's a substantial investment in a traditional music library, or in a music playback system. Traditional music libraries and playback systems offer the advantage of having some resale value, an attribute that iTunes don't share.

That doesn't mean, of course, that a collection of tunes on a miniature hard disk doesn't have value to its owner. On Friday, March 5, made that point with a savage parody of a Memphis police report alleging the arrest of 23-year-old Arleen Mathers, who reportedly used her iPod to beat to death her boyfriend, Brad Pulaski, age 27. According to the story, Mathers flew into a rage upon discovering that Pulaski had erased approximately 2000 songs from her iPod, a collection that took three months to build. The incident drove home the point of the newest version of the old adage: "Hell hath no fury like a woman deprived of her iTunes."