Fifteen years ago, Apple launched iTunes and without exaggeration changed the course of modern music history. Now it looks like it may soon become history itself.
According to Digital Music News, sources unwilling to be named because of their close work with Apple say the tech giant is now dead set on killing off iTunes downloads entirely and the internal discussions are "not on if, but when,” with a reported timeline for shutting down operations coming as soon as two to four years.
For their part, Apple rep Tom Neumayr tersely told the Recode blog the story was flat out "not true," refusing to elaborate beyond those two words. It's the kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't reply that's sure to keep the conspiracy theories coming. Of course they denied the claims, they want to profit from iTunes for as long as possible and certainly don't need some media site scaring away customers before they're ready. Or, Apple genuinely doesn't currently have any plans to shut down iTunes downloads.
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It almost doesn't matter. Whether it's in two years or ten, iTunes downloads will one day cease to exist. Streaming isn't the future, it's the present. Download sales in 2015 fell to the lowest they'd been since 2006, and some analysts predict downloads will fall an additional 25% in 2016. At the same time, Spotify recently announced it had surpassed 100 million subscribers, and Apple Music confirmed that it had passed the 13 million subscriber mark in less than a year. The launch of Apple Music itself should be proof enough that the download is on its way out. They had to rip off the band-aid and build a streaming business before it was too late and they were dragged down with the sinking downloads ship.
It's been interesting watching some of the younger DJBooth staffers' react with a mix of outrage and nostalgic horror to the idea that the iTunes download could soon cease to exist. For them, downloading is music, the idea of no longer being able to download music from iTunes is like the internet itself ceasing to exist. But I remember when the internet itself didn't really exist, not on any mainstream level, and even then at first, it was essentially synonymous with AOL chat rooms. I've seen the floppy disc, the hard disc, the tape, the Walkman, Napster, the Discman, the CD and, lest we forget, that other once common Apple product the iPod come and go. Downloads traveling down the same road towards extinction feels as natural as the changing of seasons.
Downloads may never entirely disappear, they could become niche markets sold by niche retailers like vinyl is today, but there's just not a music-listening bone in my body that believes we'll still be able to download music from iTunes in five years. The reaper comes for us all, even music formats, it really is only a question of when.