Does iTunes still let you download music?

iTunes first launched in 2001 as a media player and organizer for digital music files. In 2003, Apple introduced the iTunes Music Store, allowing users to purchase and download digital music directly within the iTunes app. At its peak around 2008, the iTunes store offered over 6 million songs and dominated the market for legal music downloads. Users could purchase individual songs or whole albums and download them instantly to their computer to sync with Apple devices like the iPod.

Over time, iTunes expanded beyond just music to offer movies, TV shows, apps, audiobooks, and more. However, the rise of music and video streaming services like Spotify and Netflix in the late 2000s began to disrupt iTunes’ dominance. As consumers shifted towards streaming, music downloads plummeted. In 2019, Apple officially discontinued the iTunes Music Store on Mac and PC, replacing it with the Music, TV, and Podcast apps. The iTunes app still exists on Windows but no longer offers music downloads.

iTunes Music Store

In April 2003, Apple launched the iTunes Music Store which allowed users to purchase and legally download digital music files, marking a major shift in the music industry. The iTunes Music Store launched with over 200,000 songs available for download at a standard price of $0.99 per song (, 2003). This gave consumers an affordable and convenient way to purchase digital music legally, compared to illegal peer-to-peer file sharing networks like Napster that had grown in popularity in prior years. The launch of the iTunes Music Store was a landmark event that started the era of legal music downloads.


The Rise of Downloads

The rise of digital music downloads began in the mid-2000s, largely driven by the popularity of Apple’s iPod and iTunes Music Store. When the iTunes Store launched in 2003, it became the first major platform where consumers could purchase individual songs or albums as digital downloads as an alternative to buying physical CDs. According to Statista, between 2000 and 2007, CD sales declined by nearly 50% as file sharing and MP3 players gained adoption. Meanwhile, digital downloads were beginning to offset losses from CD sales.

By 2007, digital downloads represented around 15% of total music industry revenues. The convenience of being able to purchase single tracks versus entire albums proved popular with consumers. Downloads also benefited from the proliferation of MP3 players like the iPod which could store hundreds or even thousands of downloaded songs.

Digital download revenue overtook physical formats in 2011 when downloads generated $2.8 billion versus $2.7 billion for CDs and vinyl combined according to Wikipedia. This shift marked a major turning point as downloads became the leading music format based on sales. The popularity of downloads reached its peak between 2012-2014 before declining in the streaming era.

Streaming Services Emerge

In the early and mid-2000s, the first music streaming services started to emerge. In 2006, Spotify launched in Europe, offering on-demand streaming access to millions of songs. That same year, Pandora debuted in the US, pioneering the internet radio model with customized stations based on listener preferences.

As high-speed internet access spread, streaming started to gain popularity as an alternative to downloads. According to one source, “The introduction … growth of video streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video” really started taking off in the 2000s (The Rise of Video Streaming: Uncovering Growth Trends). Music streaming followed a similar trajectory, providing a convenient way for listeners to access large music catalogs without having to pay per song or album.

By the late 2000s, streaming services like Spotify and Pandora had gained millions of users, demonstrating the mainstream appeal of on-demand and customized streaming. As streaming technology and internet infrastructure improved, streaming emerged as the future of digital music consumption.

Downloads Decline

In 2015, a major shift occurred in the music industry. For the first time, streaming overtook downloads as the primary way people accessed music in the United States. According to the Record Industry Association of America, streaming revenue totaled $2.4 billion, surpassing the $2.1 billion from downloads that year (Source).

This shift marked a turning point for iTunes and digital downloads. After over a decade of dominating music consumption through its iTunes Music Store, Apple began placing more focus on its streaming offerings like Apple Music. While iTunes didn’t abandon downloads altogether, it was clear that streaming was the future of digital music. Apple embraced this change by heavily promoting its streaming platforms over downloads.

The State of iTunes Downloads

Yes, iTunes still offers music downloads through the iTunes Store, though the selection is not as robust as it once was. When iTunes launched the iTunes Music Store in 2003, it became the premier destination for legally downloading digital music files to own and collect. At its peak, the iTunes Store offered a catalog of over 43 million songs for purchase and download (Apple, 2014). However, with the rise of music streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and others, music downloads have steeply declined. According to Nielsen Music data, downloads fell nearly 25% from 2016 to 2017 as consumers shifted towards accessing music through subscriptions rather than owning it. So while iTunes still allows users to purchase and download individual songs and albums to their devices, the catalog of available music for download is smaller than what’s offered through its Apple Music streaming service.

According to Apple’s support site, iTunes continues to sell music downloads for 99 cents per song and $9.99 per album. Purchased songs and albums can be downloaded on up to 10 devices per account. Once downloaded, the music files are saved locally and accessible even offline unlike streaming. However, the selection of songs and albums available for purchase is limited compared to Apple Music’s catalog of over 100 million songs for streaming subscribers (Apple, 2022). Additionally, newer releases are often exclusively available on streaming services first before individual song purchases are allowed on iTunes. So while iTunes still supports music downloads, the focus has shifted more towards its Apple Music subscription for on-demand streaming access to new releases.

Pros of Downloads

One major advantage of downloading music is that you gain ownership of the music files. When you purchase and download a song or album, you now have the actual MP3 or other audio file on your device that you can keep forever, even if that content later gets removed from a streaming service’s catalog. Having the file means you can freely transfer it between devices, back it up, and listen to it offline whenever you want without needing an internet connection (Source:

In addition, with downloads you have full control over the files. You can edit metadata like artist name, album title, genre etc. Downloaded files are also easy to organize into custom playlists and libraries on your device. Some apps allow editing files directly, like trimming unwanted intros/outros or adjusting volume. Downloads give you true ownership and flexibility with your music collection.

Cons of Downloads

While downloads offer some advantages, there are also several drawbacks to consider. One downside is that you usually have to pay per song when downloading music. Services like iTunes generally charge $0.99 to $1.29 per song download (Source). This can add up quickly if you want to build a large digital music library. In contrast, with a streaming subscription you get unlimited access to vast catalogs of music for a flat monthly or annual fee.

In addition, download stores may not offer as extensive of a music catalog compared to streaming services. For instance, Spotify claims to have over 82 million tracks available for streaming, while iTunes offers around 75 million songs for download (Source). With streaming, you also gain access to new releases as soon as they come out. Overall, the catalog size and breadth tends to be greater with an on-demand streaming service.

The Future

Downloads are expected to continue declining as streaming becomes the dominant model for music consumption. According to a chart from Statista based on MusicWatch data, the number of Americans who most often used downloads to listen to music dropped from 28% to 21% between 2015 and 2016 [1]. Meanwhile, streaming rose from 19% to 28% in that same timeframe. This trend is likely to accelerate as streaming services improve and become more ubiquitous.

Music industry revenues are now dominated by streaming. The RIAA reported that streaming accounted for 83% of industry revenues in the first half of 2022, while downloads composed only 8% [2]. The convenience and vast catalogs offered by streaming make it unlikely that downloads will make a comeback. While iTunes and other stores still sell downloads, they are becoming more of a niche format for die-hard music collectors and fans of older, obscurer music not available on the major streaming platforms.


In summary, iTunes revolutionized the music industry when it launched its Music Store in 2003, offering digital downloads of songs and albums. For years, iTunes dominated music sales and became the largest music retailer in the world. However, with the rise of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music in the late 2000s and early 2010s, download sales have plummeted. While iTunes still offers music downloads today, streaming has become the dominant format for music consumption. iTunes changed the music business forever with its introduction of digital downloads, but the platform is now clearly focused on streaming. Music downloads are still available on iTunes, but they are no longer the main way people access music.

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