From 99 cents/song to $10.99/mo: The journey started today in 2003

Apple iTunes Music Store

It was 20 years ago today when Apple launched the iTunes Music Store for Mac computers. It was long before people had access to a small handheld device that can stream unlimited music whenever they want. Back then, the company priced the downloads at 99 cents per song and offered a catalog of over 200,000 songs.

However, it wasn't the first time people downloaded music from the internet. Peer-to-peer service Napster, founded by Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, had existed and it even went out of service before the arrival of iTunes Music. Although it faced legal battles, Napster was popular enough that Steve Jobs mentioned it at the Apple Music Event in 2003 when he demonstrated the music store.

Getting access to the iTunes Music Store required the user to have a valid credit card with a U.S. billing address and a Mac computer loaded with OS X 10.1.5 and iTunes 4. After purchasing a song, Apple offered buyers what it called "groundbreaking personal use rights." The company deployed its FairPlay DRM technology to restrict the use of purchased music which it abandoned several years later after facing much criticism and an open letter from Steve Jobs presenting Apple's defense.

Nonetheless, it allowed users to burn their songs onto an unlimited number of CDs (of course, for personal use), listening to the songs on an unlimited number of iPods and up to three authorized Mac computers. They could also use their purchased songs on Mac apps such as iMovie, iPhoto, and iDVD.

Users could listen to a 30-second free preview of a song before purchasing it. All the music available on the iTunes Music Store at the time was offered in 128 kbps AAC format. In the following years, the limit of authorized Mac computers was increased to five and the sound quality was bumped to 256 kbps AAC.

Eventually, Apple caught up with technology trends and launched Apple Music in 2015 rivaling the likes of Spotify. The service now offers access to over 100 million songs at a monthly cost of $10.99 for the individual plan. However, one big difference here is that users can only listen to their favorite songs as long as they pay every month. On the flip side, they don't need to buy every song they want to listen to. Recently, Apple also launched a dedicated music streaming app for classical music.

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