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Is There Even a Future for Apple's iTunes Store?


In a world where owning music is quickly becoming a thing of the past, big companies are having to figure out the next step.

Let's say you wanted to listen to a specific song. Let's say David Bowie's "Young Americans." When the song was released in 1975, you would have had two options: wait for it to be played on the radio or buy the record (or eight track).

Ten years later you had the option of recording the song on cassette tape from a friend's copy, or even recording it straight from the radio.
Ten more years and you could have made your own mix from your collection of cutting-edge compact discs and burned copies for your friends. If you were especially technologically "with-it" you might have downloaded it from one of the proto-Napster bulletin boards of 1995.

In 2005, assuming you were sufficiently frightened or honest enough to avoid illegal downloads, your best option was the iTunes (NASDAQ:AAPL) store.

But what will you do in 2015?

Today, if I want to listen to "Young Americans" I can have it piped to my ears in mere seconds through too many sources to list. Sure, I have the CD copy of Bowie's Greatest Hits that I bought (used) from my college record store in the '90s, and then ripped to my computer in the 2000s. But rather than sort through my unwieldy iTunes library, I can also simply type "Young Amer…" into YouTube's (NASDAQ:GOOG) search window and I won't even have to finish typing the title before clicking through to several decent copies with visual accompaniment, as well as an assortment of live versions and covers.

If I'm not at my desk, I can use the Spotify App to pull this song up on my phone. Or if I just want a "Bowie vibe" to carry through my work day rather than that specific song, I can start a "Bowie channel" on Pandora (NYSE:P) or any number of similar services.

So, if I can listen to basically any song I want whenever I want (subways and airplanes still provide a challenge, but we all know it's only a matter of time before they are wired) what exactly is the point of "owning" a song?

Much like watching baseball or reading a newspaper, people assume that purchasing music will always happen because it always has, but owning music is a relatively new idea. Prior to Edison, the closest you could come to "owning" a song was by buying a piece of sheet music (which is itself a relatively recent invention that required the printing press, mass distribution, and the creation of musical notation).

Sinatra was really the first artist to push the idea of an album as more than simply a collection of songs, and it was of course the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band that gave us the idea of an album as a cohesive work of art…but all of these ideas are less than a century old.

Additionally, anyone who cares about music and is somewhere between 30 and 50 years old, is already feeling the burn of having to upgrade collections from one technology to the next multiple times in the recent past. And of course the coveted teenage demographic grew up in the digital age, when the idea of owning music was already becoming passé.
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