How many iTunes songs has Apple sold?

The Unofficial Apple Weblog notes that the number of iTunes downloads has reached 250 million. However, the weblog makes its most interesting point in a throwaway comment:

I feel that I should point out that Apple hasn’t broken out paid tracks vs. free tracks (i.e. those from the Pepsi promotion or the weekly download)

If Apple has sold all those songs, then while it’s an impressive result it’s still a drop in the ocean: 250 million songs among 10 million iPods works out as just 25 tracks per iPod – one-tenth of an iPod shuffle. As iTunes per iPod points out, that means iPod owners are still getting the overwhelming majority of their music from other sources, such as their existing CD collection or from file sharing networks. Either that, or they’ve been mugged and had their iPods stolen before they could fill them.

If the weblog’s right and Apple’s including freebies, then the number of purchased tracks per punter drops considerably. The original Pepsi promotion promised to give away 100 million downloads for free, so if it hit the target (which I doubt – I don’t think they gave away even one-tenth of that amount – but bear with me here) then the number of paid downloads immediately drops to 150 million – 15 tracks per iPod, or roughly one CD’s worth of music. And the free weekly downloads will reduce that figure further.

For what it’s worth, my reading of the Apple press release is that it’s actually sold a quarter of a billion iTunes tracks, but it doesn’t really matter which is true: freebies or no freebies, the point is that Apple has sold either one or two CDs’ worth of music to iPod owners, who by their very nature are more into music than the average man on the street. Selling a CD or two to ten million people is pretty good going, but 10 million or 20 million CDs in two years is still a drop in the ocean. Last year alone, UK and US record labels shifted 542 million CD albums. That means digital music is growing, but reports of the death of the CD are still rather premature.

6 thoughts on “How many iTunes songs has Apple sold?

  1. Stephen says:

    Well, we both know why I don’t buy from iTMS anymore, but it’s still an interesting analysis. And even having said that, I have bought 160 songs from iTMS (including probably 10 freebies). I think that the majority of iPod users have never bought from iTMS. I say that because, before I stopped, I found the experience quite addictive. So I would guess that 20% of iPod users account for 80% of iTMS sales. Anecdotal evidence from friends who are new iPod owners suggests that the first thing they do is transfer all of their CDs to the iPod, which not only takes a while but also results in a huge amount of music that psychologically feels sufficient for quite a while. (You also of course discover music you had forgotten you had.) So it probably takes a while before they even think about buying new music for the iPod. And given the ramp-up in sales, most iPod users are new users. Then, as you say, old habits die hard: the reflex response is to buy a CD, and rip it: after all, ripping

  2. Stephen says:

    Aargh! Not sure I like Haloscan: limits on comments, did Blogger have that? And somehow my italics on “never” have carried through the rest of the comment! Preview button anyone?

    Anyway, the rest of the comment was, as far as I remember:

    …after all, ripping from hundreds of CDs is what you’ve just done to get your existing music onto the iPod. So there could be huge pent-up demand for iTMS that will come onstream in the next year or so as the rump of new users passes through the iPod ownership cycle. (And high-bitrate or Lossless downloads wouldn’t hurt!)

  3. Gary says:

    Sorry about that, the comments limit is because I haven’t upgraded to the paid-for version. I’ll do that now.

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