Remember when iPods kickstarted the digital music revolution?
I remember a guy at college who was nuts about iPods. I didn't know what they were, but the way he described it made it sound like a mythical piece piece of metal from the future.
Now I realise he was just another Apple fanboy — a rarer breed back then — but ultimately, the hype was accurate. It really did come from the future.
Today, even tablets don't represent the cutting edge of tech. They're great, but already a 'today' device rather than something that beamed here from tomorrow. The dream of immersive musical experiences remains limited, and I'm yet to hear the same kind of fanboy hype about iPads as I heard with those chunky, monochromatic iPods ten years ago.
Music needs another iPod moment.
That's the argument presented by Mark Mulligan, an independent music analyst. He accepts that the CD era is coming to a close, and that even digital music giant iTunes isn't driving the kind of growth in sales we've come to expect.
"The CD and iTunes combined account for approximately 78% of total recorded music revenue in the world’s 10 largest music markets. And yet neither look like they are going to provide the momentum the music industry needs over the next few years," he posted on Hypebot last week.
Mark argues that music is no longer a pivot from which Apple can centre its business. Back when iPods played music and did little else, it was easy to focus on audio as the killer feature. Not so today; tablets beam with games, apps, books and a jungle of visual media that puts music firmly on the backseat. It was once the single compelling reasons to draw new customers to the Apple fold. Now it's a DVD extra.
This wouldn't matter if the success of digital music hadn't been inexorably tied to the iPod over the last decade. "As soon as iPod sales slowed, so did the digital music market," explains Mulligan alongside this graph. "Prior to 2008 the digital music market had grown by an average annual rate of 85.2%, after 2008 that rate dropped to 7.5%. In many markets the 2009 slowdown was of falling-off-a-cliff proportions: in the US digital growth slipped from 30% in 2008 to a near flat-lining 1% in 2009."
We can argue that iPhones were the device that prompted the drop in iPod sales, but there's a clear link between the original iPod and digital music revenue.
The public have moved to vivid new pastures, and music streaming services remain an appealing concept. But the music business could really do with another iPod moment, whether it's from Apple or any other tech company, where audio is the unique selling point. Whether this is a realistic proposal amid the current visual landscape is for the revolutionaries to solve.
By Tom Davenport (Twitter)