20 years of the iPod: the way it shuffled music and tech into a brand new period | Music

In 2001, the document enterprise was in freefall as a result of digital piracy, and one of the simplest ways out of this accelerating disaster got here within the form of a white machine the dimensions of a deck of playing cards. The iPod, launched 20 years in the past this week, was additionally how Apple’s Steve Jobs was capable of prey on a failing enterprise so as to avenge his personal previous failures – exiled between 1985 and 1997 from the corporate he co-founded – by turning Apple into essentially the most worthwhile firm in historical past.

Earlier than the iPod lifeline arrived in October 2001, document labels have been in full panic mode. In its annual report for 2001, document firm commerce physique IFPI known as it “a turbulent” 12 months, blaming filesharing and CD burning for a income stoop. Jay Berman was chief exective of IFPI on the time and calls the size of filesharing then “a disaster of momentous proportions” for document labels. “It actually was,” he says, “a international invasion.”

The business responded by making an attempt to sue filesharing service Napster and the copycat providers that got here in its wake: litigation fairly than innovation.

“[Litigation] was a bellwether for idiocy,” claims Jim Griffin, an business advisor who reduce his digital enamel at Geffen within the Nineties, placing out the primary full-length track legally on-line in June 1994 (Head First by Aerosmith). “Regardless of the music business thought, that’s what you shouldn’t do.” So the iPod benefited not simply from the design deficiencies of the MP3 gamers earlier than it, but in addition from an early mover taking all of the authorized warmth from a document enterprise spooked into struggle mode.

The primary digital music gamers emerged in late 1998 and early 1999, notably the Private Jukebox (developed by Compaq Analysis), which held the equal of a CD’s value of music and was liable to skipping if bumped. It was Diamond Multimedia and its Rio vary of MP3 gamers that first caught the general public’s creativeness and the music enterprise’s ire. Document labels felt it ought to be topic to a clean media levy and pay royalties to copyright homeowners on each machine offered.

Impeccable timing … Steve Jobs with the iPod on 23 October 2001. {Photograph}: Reuters/Alamy

The document labels “needed the participant off the market”, says Hilary Rosen, who was CEO of the commerce organisation Recording Trade Affiliation of America (RIAA) between 1998 and 2003. In October 1999, nevertheless, a US district court docket decide denied the RIAA’s demand for an injunction towards the Rio and greater than 200,000 gamers have been offered quickly after. Jobs seen this as an unmissable alternative, damning the Rio and its opponents as “brain-dead” as a result of clunky software program and design. He was satisfied solely Apple might efficiently streamline digital music.

iTunes, launched in January 2001, enabled the ripping and administration of CDs on a person’s pc. The following step was to develop a music participant that shunted its rivals into the ditch, and from there adopted a transfer into music retail with the iTunes Retailer.

It was an unlimited gamble however Jobs’s timing was, not for the primary or final time, impeccable. After the failed Rio litigation, there had been a change in temperature amongst labels, slowly accepting it was higher to work with fairly than towards such units. “As soon as the iPod got here alongside, they have been extra open to a center floor,” says Rosen. She provides that document labels noticed it as one factor “to sue that little firm Diamond” however one thing else to “attempt to tackle a behemoth” comparable to Apple.

The design and performance of the iPod was one thing Jobs obsessed over throughout its gestation interval. The difficulty of restricted storage was cracked by Toshiba creating an affordable 5GB disc drive that would maintain about 1,000 songs. Apple swooped and signed them as unique producers, slamming the door on Artistic Labs which was concurrently engaged on their Zen MP3 participant.

I approached Apple to speak concerning the legacy of the iPod. The corporate, normally reticent to talk in items that embody non-Apple voices, initially mentioned it might put ahead Eddy Cue, who oversaw the creation of iTunes and now heads up all the things from Apple Music to Apple TV+. The corporate quickly reneged, nevertheless, and mentioned it will not have any firm executives converse concerning the iPod.

This secrecy outlined the unique improvement of the machine, with only some Apple executives allowed to see the iPod, codenamed P-68 (and, colloquially, Dulcimer). The eureka second was the clicking wheel, conceived by Phil Schiller, Apple’s advertising and marketing chief, that enabled nimble search and management and not using a keyboard. Jobs needed it as small as attainable, with an apocryphal story circulating that he tossed one prototype in a fish tank, pointed on the bubbles popping out and mentioned they indicated useless house that ought to be eliminated.

It was unveiled at an Apple occasion on 23 October 2001, with Jobs speaking by means of the machine specs after which, like a digital magican, pulling it out of his pocket. “There it’s proper there,” he mentioned holding it up because the room erupted in applause.

Document labels initially insisted that it’s a Mac-only machine, with Apple then solely accounting for five% of worldwide pc gross sales. It was seen as a small and secure testing floor. Its success finally strengthened Apple’s hand to steer labels to permit it to be appropriate with Home windows, giving the corporate an enormous market to focus on.

Apple bolstered this with advertising and marketing and promoting spend – notably with its highly effective “silhouette” adverts – within the tens of thousands and thousands of {dollars}, one thing far past what labels had ever tried. “That was an extraordinary sum of money on the time for an promoting finances,” says Rosen.

Ads for the iPod in October 2003.
The facility of promoting … adverts for the iPod in October 2003. {Photograph}: Sipa US/Alamy

The launch of the iTunes Retailer (in 2003 within the US and 2004 in Europe) was the following key step in Apple’s domination of digital music. The document labels had tried to launch their very own authorized obtain providers however Pressplay and MusicNet have been hampered partly by incomplete catalogues (as labels have been initially barred from cross-licensing their music for monopoly causes) however primarily as a result of they have been clunky and expensive. “You actually wanted an outdoor participant to come back in and go copyright holder to copyright holder to get the agreements,” says Rosen.

Jac Holzman, founding father of Elektra Information, had a roving temporary as Warner Music’s chief technologist on the time and admits that creating an excellent music service was past the ken of document labels. “It was higher that it got here from the skin,” he says, “as a result of the skin – and Apple particularly – would simply construct it higher. We knew [Apple’s] historical past was wonderful. So why not give it a shot?”

Document firms, although, have been deeply unwilling to torpedo the profitable CD enterprise simply because digital had come alongside. “These have been the blokes who had been within the business for a very long time and you wouldn’t have known as them pc savvy,” says Berman of the IFPI. “In all probability a terrific a lot of them had their private contracts tied to the gross sales of CD. The preliminary response was very a lot: shield what now we have.”

Rosen concurs, saying labels regarded “transferring into one thing fully totally different” as anathema to how they labored. “Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Child, the place it’s a must to leap into the river beneath as a result of they’re coming for you, and praying that you just’ll dwell,” she says by means of analogy. “They simply resisted doing that.”

Holzman places it much more bluntly. “The document executives again in that point,” he says, “weren’t used to alter.”

Towards such entrenched protectionism, Jobs’s defining – and controversial – concept was certain to conflict violently. He needed to cost a flat worth of $0.99 for tracks – new or previous – on the iTunes Retailer and, crucially, let shoppers purchase particular person tracks with out having to purchase a full album. Despite the fact that iTunes, at its peak round 2007, managed greater than 70% of the authorized obtain market, downloads have been a negligible margin enterprise for Apple, regardless of taking a reported 30% reduce of all gross sales. It was there as a driver for the iPod – the place the actual cash was.

Enamel have been gnashed on the time, however labels needed to settle for that Apple steered them right into a future they might not have reached beneath their very own steam. “In impact, [Apple’s dominance of legal downloads] was the worth you paid for entry into the creation of a reputable market,” shrugs Berman. “The creation of iTunes was the whipped cream on prime. It actually did create a way, as soon as issues received off the bottom, that this had rescued the recording business.”

Rosen says she was offered early on the iTunes Retailer, becoming a member of Jobs on “a bit little bit of a highway present” round labels and administration firms to get them on facet. Apple was, she says, an outlier in Silicon Valley as an organization that believed that every one content material – and particularly music – ought to be paid for.

“Not solely did he grow to be an advocate for the music business the place we had none, the music business was actually ridiculed by the tech business,” she says. “They didn’t see what we created as useful.” Jobs couriered her an iPod on the day it launched. “He despatched it to me with an enormous circle across the ‘don’t steal music’ [warning on the box]. These three phrases have been a consolation blanket to the business earlier than the iTunes Retailer launched.”

Apple additionally blossomed as a result of no different expertise firm might develop a convincing iPod challenger. “Microsoft tried to get in there and had a number of units – however it by no means clicked as they have been extra cumbersome,” says Rosen. “Apple had the sphere to themselves for a very long time.”

She is extra forgiving concerning the flaws of rival units than Jobs ever was. Jim Goldman, a reporter at CNBC, interviewed Jobs in January 2008 and recounted how Robbie Bach, the chief in control of the Zune, informed him that Microsoft’s participant was a “worthy different to Apple’s iPod”. Jobs didn’t miss the chance to kick a galumphing rival. “Was he inebriated?” he requested. “Do you even know anybody who owns a Zune?”

U2 with Steve Jobs.
Attracting celeb endorsement … U2 with Steve Jobs. {Photograph}: ZUMA Press, Inc/Alamy

Apple additionally had the magnetic energy to herald celeb endorsement. Participating in shuttle diplomacy between California and Dublin, Jobs and Apple’s lead designer Jony Ive enlisted the assistance of Jimmy Iovine of Interscope Information to steer one among his label’s marquee acts to interrupt their blanket ban on promoting. A black and pink iPod was created for U2 to coincide with the November 2004 launch of their Learn how to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb album. The band, paid a royalty price on every machine offered, additionally agreed to look in commercials for the machine in trade for phenomenal ranges of promoting spend by Apple.

It was the iPod Mini, additionally launched in 2004, that proved the tipping-point machine that, based on Walter Isaacson in his 2011 biography of Jobs, “really launched the iPod to market dominance, by eliminating the competitors from smaller flash-drive gamers”. Earlier than the Mini launched, Apple managed 31% of the moveable participant market; inside 18 months, Apple held 74%. At the beginning of 2007, the iPod alone made up half of Apple’s enterprise.

Gross sales of iPods handed 100m in April 2007 and its peak particular person 12 months was 2008 when it noticed gross sales of 54.8m. However Apple already had its succession plan in place, launching the iPhone in 2007 and slowly “retiring” its traces of iPods, with solely the iPod Contact surviving immediately. Now iPhones together with MacBooks, AirPods, iPads and Watches are Apple’s new centre of gravity.

“I don’t know the way you describe one thing as the proper product,” says Berman wanting again on the iPod’s affect, “however it just about crammed that description at the moment.”

It additionally confirmed how digital expertise, seen in 2001 because the nemesis of the document enterprise, might really reserve it. However this rescue plan got here with onerous circumstances, benefiting Apple significantly greater than it benefited the document enterprise. At its first day of buying and selling on the Amsterdam Inventory Change on 21 September 2021, Common Music Group, comfortably the largest label and writer on this planet, hit a peak valuation of $54.3bn. In March 2021, Apple reported a market capitalisation of $2 trillion.

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