A decade later: iTunes and digital downloads


Somehow in the midst of everything, I failed to post on a subject I had been waiting awhile to because an anniversary was coming.  Well, it passed, but it still was a game changer for me and how I shop for music: The launch of iTunes and the iTunes Store for Windows, which happened in October of 2003.

Earlier that year, I had bought off a college classmate a second-generation iPod that he was no longer needing.  Using software I bought online, I was able to get the music he had off of it, and get mine on.  But having iTunes, and the ability to buy music without leaving my dorm room, was a revelation.

The first album I bought was one I had bought twice before, and still one of my favorites to this day, Swing Out Sister‘s “Shapes and Patterns.” (I had previously bought it on cassette, and then CD; I didn’t mind buying it again, testing out iTunes while supporting a group I loved.)

Now, of course, complaints are rampant about the iTunes software; my desktop doesn’t play well with it, although my tower is approaching an ancient (for me, anyway) five years old (my normal replacement cycle is around three years). The bit-rates have gone up over time, and the copy protection stripped away.  The simplistic 99 cent pricing has evolved into a three-tier system that routinely is more than $1 than less.  But still, it remains a really convenient way to purchase music.

Of course, the winds (for some, anyway) are changing, tilting towards monthly subscriptions that give access to a large library of music.  This has been tried before many times, but the latest crop of services, like Spotify, Rdio and Pandora, each have some unique features that are getting people to pony up.  My friend Nick shared his recent experiences with it, but I haven’t been able to move past ownership, and so my monthly iTunes budget persists.

I still have an iPod classic, a direct descendant of that first device I bought off my classmate, a 10-year habit that’s hard to break because I find touchscreens while driving incredibly aggravating.  Sometimes, despite my eagerness to be an early adopter, I cling to the product I bought or its offspring, mostly out of comfort and familiarity.  Yet cell phone service is spotty; I still lose signal every day entering and leaving the Park Avenue tunnel.  Streaming still seems not quite ready for me.  And I’ve been happy with the pricing and availability of Amazon MP3, yet I buy sparingly nonetheless.

It’s weird.  Old habits die hard. But for me, the iTunes store was as transformative as Napster and Kazaa at that era, and for me, it’s still a vital source. And I still break out that Swing Out Sister album every month or two.

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