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Remembering iTunes' Cultural Significance

This illustration taken in April 2018 shows the logo of the iTunes app of Apple displayed on a tablet screen in Paris.
Lionel Bonaventure
AFP/Getty Images
This illustration taken in April 2018 shows the logo of the iTunes app of Apple displayed on a tablet screen in Paris.

Nearly two decades ago, Apple announced its new jukebox software. The company called it iTunes. Today, during its annual World Wide Developers Conference, Apple has announced that in its new operating system, iTunes is going away, to be replaced by a Music app, a Podcast app and a TV app instead.

"It completely changed the way that people buy and listen to music," Amy Wang Rolling Stone senior music business editor, says. Amid rumors last week, Wang penned a remembrance for the "clunky but world-shattering" innovation. As Wang explains to NPR's Ari Shapiro, iTunes was a game changer in more ways than one.

"There was also a brief period where the music industry was terrified that people were just going to download things illegally and pirate music," Wang says. "So, iTunes came in and did two things at once. It moved the model from retail stores onto the web and it also sort of helped ease those fears that Napster would take over."

Now, as music lovers prepare to bid farewell, they're sharing their favorite iTunes memories. When Shapiro asked Twitter users for their iTunes memories. "That first time I realized I no longer needed to put 10 CDs in my backpack to get work done at the library...it was amazing," @MonicaBisha shared.

User @mediapark1999 shared that The Beatles catalog finally being released on iTunes in 2010 was a "delightful shock." It seemed to acknowledge the inevitability of the platform.

But how will moving away from purchasing MP3's on iTunes affect a listener's relationship with the music?

"You essentially lease music instead of buying it," Wang says. "So, for instance, that's the hypothesis for why live events are growing so much and people want to go to concerts and festivals more than ever: Because if you can stream things so easily and so openly everyday, then you crave that emotional connection to an artist you can get maybe in person or via some other means rather than just buying their music."

Sarah Handeledited this audio for radio.Sidney Maddenadapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.