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For many, the iTunes Music Store is a place to get lost in—a modern-day manifestation of the welcoming neighborhood record shop.

I.B. BAD TAKES A VIRTUAL STROLL AROUND THE iTUNES MUSIC STORE

Apple’s Brilliantly Designed Destination Is More Than Just a Store, While Starbucks Has Become More Than Just a Place to Meet for Coffee
With the market for physical product continuing to decline, the iTunes Music Store has become the most alluring destination in music retail. That’s true not just for millions of fans but for gatekeepers as well, from music supervisors to TV bookers, for whom the store is now a primary source of information about those artists that early-adopting fans are embracing. The breakouts of up-and-comers like Amy Winehouse, Feist, Colbie Caillat (whose album is #1 at iTunes as this is written), Sara Bareilles (#5) and Spoon (#8) were first evidenced on the continuously updated iTunes charts, which then became a key factor in fueling their commercial ascents as a whole.

The ready access to sales activity, for fans and labels alike, has made iTunes visibility central to any comprehensive marketing campaign.   But for fans, the charts are just one small part of the attraction. The ability to sample new music, check out what celebrities and fellow fans are excited about, amuse themselves with the myriad bells and whistles they encounter and get immediate gratification makes the browsing experience immersive and addicting. For many, the iTunes Music Store is a place to get lost in—a modern-day manifestation of the welcoming neighborhood record shop. If the music business does have a future, it starts right here.

Meanwhile, another Now hits compilation made a #1 debut this week, but its total of 224k continues a two-year downward trend for the series, as the a la carte digital download model pioneered by iTunes replaces the prefabricated singles collection for an ever-increasing number of mainstream consumers. By comparison, Now 19, released two years ago this month, debuted with 436k on the way to 2.1m, while Now 22, released in July ’06, had a first-week tally of 398k and an overall of 1.6m.

The other major retail player of the modern era, Starbucks/Hear Music, continues to play a big part in changing the shape of music distribution while whittling away at the power base of the major companies. The success of the Paul McCartney project, followed by the signings of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, and coupled with the adult-leaning sales pattern of today's top-seller charts, have caused many label gunslingers to scratch their heads in bewilderment as to what will be left of their own power bases in the brave new world. Starbucks' more than 9,000 North American stores, which cater to the affluent 25-plus demo, provide a perfect fit for the so-called heritage artists who'd previously been in limbo as a result of the majors' inability to come up with a workable economic model for them. Taylor had been with Columbia since 1977.

All of the above can also be seen as a testament to the ongoing relevance of another singer/songwriter who came along in the 1960s—you know, the one who wrote “The Times They Are A-Changing.”

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