Thursday, April 11, 2013

Steve Jobs Rock Star

Just as our grandparents could remember life before airplanes, we can remember listening to music before it became portable (unless you had a car wrapped around an AM radio). Today being able to listen to any kind of music, anywhere, for hours on end seems as natural as breathing.

Such a cultural change kind of creeps up on us (or rather steamrollers us) in the microchip/internet/social media age. Still, it struck me as time flying when I learned that Apple’s I-Tunes Store will be ten years old this month.

How that came to happen is another fascinating chapter in the Steve Jobs saga as retold by Walter Issacson in his biography of the Apple legend. The story has all the elements of a Gordon Gecko movie with corporate intrigue, personal ambition, millions of dollars at stake and the superhero doing battle against all odds.

Of course the saga began with the arrival of the I-Pod: the slick, shiny cigarette box that Jobs unveiled in October of 2001, saying, “This little device holds a thousand songs and it goes right in my pocket.” In musical parlance, it was an overnight sensation.

Apple’s digital system…I-Pod, I-Tunes and computer… worked fine for taking music you owned and going portable with it. But the music industry was being buffeted by big changes. Napster and its followers were making it easy to copy and distribute songs for free and the big corporate players, Warner Music (AOL), Sony and others were watching CD sales drop. At first they tried lawsuits and then they went into partnerships to offer subscription services, but neither was successful.

In rides Jobs on his white horse with a couple of simple concepts. First, he believed that people wanted to “own” music not rent it. Second, he was opposed to theft of creative content. “It’s wrong to steal. It hurts other people. And it hurts your own character.”

Jobs then proceeded to write the rules of the new game: 99 cents a song, sold individually (not as albums), 70 cents to record companies. Then the super salesman turned on the charm to convince AOL Time Warner to get on board, then Universal, and finally Jimmy Iovine of Interscope-Geffen-A&M.

The biggest stumbling block was Sony whose chief then, Andrew Lack, wanted a cut on sales of I-Pods. Jobs refused and played his coalition off against Sony’s fractious divisions. Then he courted individual artists like Bono, Jagger and Sheryl Crow. One artist who became convinced of the symbiosis of I-Tunes to I-Pod, was Dr. Dre, who said “Man somebody finally got it right.”

In less than a year, Jobs had brought the I-Tunes Store to reality, opening its digital doors with 200,000 tracks in April 2003. The store manager had predicted the service would sell a million songs in six months. It sold that many in six days.

Two years later Apple sold its one millionth I-Pod and by 2012, Apple reported sales of I-Pods worldwide had reached 350 million units.

You say you want a revolution? Steve Jobs proved there was more than one way to become a rock star.


  1. And the digital ether was rockin'. Jobs was a mid wive for the portability of our tunes and a new music business dynamic, but he was the progenitor of great sound on little systems with terrific ear buds. dance, run or air guitar with your own playlist.