Apple Surpasses The Big Blue

It should come as no surprise that Apple's online music store, iTunes, is becoming ever more popular as a way to purchase music, whether that be Country Music, Pop, Rock, or any other genre.

However, since the idea of buying "digital music" is still relatively young, one might think that brick-and-mortar retailers like Target, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart are still the 800 pound gorillas in the retail music business. To some degree, they are definitely major players, but there is now a new king in town.

In an internal Apple e-mail that contained the findings of a January NPD MusicWatch Survey of the top ten music retailers, Apple was at the top of the list. Surprising?

Everyone has seen digital music gain popularity over the past few years, so the fact that Apple now leads the pack with 19 percent of sales for the month of January 2008 only makes sense. Apple has been steadily climbing to the top, as they surpassed Amazon in June 2007 to take the number three spot. Wal-Mart was responsible for 15 percent of sales, ahead of Best Buy's 13 percent, with both Amazon and Target at 6 percent to round out the top 5.

These numbers could be taken all sorts of ways. For one, critics of the report say that the numbers for Apple are likely skewed due to the redemption of gift cards that buyers received as Christmas gifts. To counter that though, last time I checked, Walmart, Best Buy, and Target have gift cards too, don't they? So, I don't really buy that as a valid criticism of the report; this simply reflects how the music landscape has shifted over the years towards digital distribution.

When you have Country Music artists like Toby Keith offering free downloads of their music, and other internet giants like MySpace getting into the online music scene, it is only natural to see physical retailers be overtaken by internet-based music stores. iTunes allows for different buying patterns, as consumers are more likely to pick just one or two songs off of an album instead of purchasing the entire record. The traditional brick-and-mortar store relies on sales of entire CDs that may only contain a couple of songs that are worth the plastic they're recorded on.

On the other end of the spectrum, Country Music stars like Garth Brooks, Jason Aldean, and even The Eagles have struck deals with Wal-Mart to have the mega-mart be the sole retailer and distributor of their CDs. This works to a certain degree for sure, but I believe that what we'll begin to see is more and more artists using digital distribution as the sole means of getting their music to the masses. Other non-Country artists like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have already proven this to be a very viable means of releasing their recordings.

I think while the numbers above may not necessarily be the most accurate reflection of the current Country Music industry, it is still useful data and should be taken into consideration by artists of all genres - downloading digital music is not something that is going away any time soon.

For Country Music artists to reach the audiences they want, they should remind themselves they are in the music business, not the little plastic disc business.