iTunes was once the premier destination for legally downloading music online. At its peak, the iTunes Store had a catalog of over 43 million songs and was handling billions of downloads per year. However, in recent years, streaming has largely replaced digital downloads as the dominant way people consume music. This has led many to wonder if iTunes still allows users to purchase and download MP3s in 2023, or if it has fully embraced the streaming model like other services such as Spotify and Apple Music.
The Short Answer
Yes, iTunes still offers music downloads in 2023. The iTunes Store has over 75 million songs available for purchase and download. Users can buy individual tracks, entire albums, or compile their own custom playlists. Downloaded music can be played on iPhones, iPods, iPads, Macs, PCs, and other supported devices.
However, it’s important to note that while downloads are still available, they no longer make up the bulk of iTunes’ business. Streaming now accounts for the vast majority of music consumption, even on Apple devices. But Apple understands there is still demand from some users who want to own their music or have offline access. For those needs, iTunes downloads are still an option.
The History of iTunes Music Downloads
Launched in 2003, the iTunes Store kickstarted the digital music revolution. It gave users a legal alternative to piracy by allowing them to purchase songs individually for just $0.99. Albums cost $9.99. This affordable pricing, combined with the ubiquity of Apple’s iPod, made iTunes the premier outlet for digital music.
At its peak around 2011, the iTunes Store was home to over 43 million songs and was handling 15,000 downloads per minute. According to Apple, users have downloaded over 35 billion songs from iTunes to date.
The launch of Spotify’s streaming service in the U.S. in 2011 marked a gradual shift away from downloads. With streaming, users could access millions of songs on-demand for a monthly subscription, without having to pay per track or album. Other services like Pandora also grew in popularity.
In 2015, Apple entered the streaming market with Apple Music. And in 2019, iTunes itself was discontinued and replaced by Apple Music, Apple Podcasts and Apple TV. However, the iTunes Store remains the place to purchase downloads.
While downloads make up a small fraction of total music consumption today, the iTunes Store still generates significant revenue. In 2021, analysts estimate it handled over $2.6 billion in music download sales.
Why iTunes Still Offers Downloads
There are several reasons why Apple continues to offer music downloads on iTunes in the streaming era:
With streaming, you pay for limited access but never actually own the music. Downloads let you purchase and own songs to keep forever. For many, ownership provides peace of mind that they’ll still have access to their music collection if they ever unsubscribe from a streaming service.
Streaming requires an internet connection. With downloads, you can listen anytime, anywhere offline by syncing your music library to devices. This makes downloads better for situations like flights or subways where internet connectivity is limited.
Higher Audio Quality
Streaming music is compressed to conserve bandwidth, which reduces audio quality. iTunes offers lossless quality downloads for discerning listeners who want better than CD quality.
Rare and Older Music
Streaming catalogs favor newer and popular mainstream music. But the iTunes Store has an extensive selection of older, obscure and harder-to-find tracks that aren’t always available on streaming. Downloads are sometimes the only way to get these songs legally.
Some albums on iTunes come with digital booklets, bonus tracks and other content you can only get with the downloads.
It’s easy to gift downloads to friends and family. Streaming doesn’t allow gifting access to your personal subscription library.
How to Download Music from iTunes
Downloading music from the iTunes Store is a straightforward process:
Step 1: Open the iTunes App
On Mac or PC, launch the iTunes app. On iPhone or iPad, open the App Store and download iTunes.
Step 2: Search or Browse for Music
Use the search bar to find specific songs, albums or artists. Or browse the catalog by genre. iTunes offers music recommendations on the Browse tab.
Step 3: Preview Tracks
When you find music you like, you can preview tracks by clicking the play button icon. This lets you sample songs before you commit to downloading.
Step 4: Purchase and Download
Once you’ve found tracks to download, click the Buy button and confirm your purchase. Bought tracks are automatically downloaded to your device and added to your iTunes library.
Step 5: Sync to Other Devices
To transfer downloads to other devices, plug them into your computer and click the Sync button in iTunes. This copies purchased music for offline listening on iPhones, iPads and more.
How Much Do iTunes Downloads Cost?
iTunes uses a simple price tier system:
– Individual songs cost $0.69, $0.99, or $1.29
– Albums cost $7.99, $9.99, or $11.99
– Music videos generally cost $1.99
There are occasional sales where prices may be discounted.
Overall, downloads are a bit more expensive than streaming. Unlimited music on Apple Music costs $9.99 per month. But you own iTunes downloads forever, while streamed songs disappear if you unsubscribe.
Quality of iTunes Downloads
The audio quality of iTunes downloads is very good. Songs are provided in the popular 256kbps AAC format by default.
This provides near CD-quality audio that sounds great on iPhones, iPods, and various audio devices. The compression saves space while retaining excellent fidelity.
For more discerning listeners, many albums are also available in lossless formats on iTunes, such as:
– ALAC (Apple Lossless): Offers CD-quality sound or better
– FLAC: Open lossless format, comparable to ALAC
– WAV: Uncompressed format, highest possible audio quality
These lossless formats preserve every bit of the original source audio for virtually indistinguishable sound from the studio masters. However, the file sizes are much larger.
How to Play iTunes Downloads
Once purchased, iTunes downloads can be played through various apps and devices:
Use iTunes or the Apple Music app on a Mac or PC. Downloads appear in your library alongside any streamed songs.
Listen via the Apple Music or iTunes app. Download the songs to your device for offline playback.
Same as above. Enjoy downloads on an iPad using the Apple Music or iTunes app.
Sync downloaded tracks to an iPod Shuffle, Nano, Touch or Classic. Traditional iPods are designed for playing download libraries offline.
If you have a 4th generation or later Apple TV, it can play iTunes downloads via Home Sharing. Just turn the feature on in iTunes on your Mac/PC.
Install the Apple Music app for Android to access downloads. Or use the Files app to locate MP3 files transferred from your computer.
Other MP3 Players
For non-Apple MP3 players, you’ll need to copy the iTunes music files (.m4a) and convert to standard MP3 format before transferring the songs over.
Is iTunes Still Worth Using to Buy Music?
For most casual listeners today, streaming services like Apple Music provide an unparalleled breadth of content that’s easily accessible across devices. But iTunes downloads still offer benefits that make them a compelling choice in certain situations:
- You want to own your music forever, not just rent access
- You need offline listening support for planes, subways, etc.
- Sound quality is paramount
- You want access to rare, obscure or older tracks
- You like having liner notes, artwork and other content
- You want to gift songs to others
iTunes also frequently has exclusive downloads and bonus content bundled with albums that you can’t get on streaming.
Downsides compared to streaming include higher costs if you buy a lot of tracks and the need to manually manage a music library. But overall, iTunes downloads remain a high-quality option for purchasing digital music. The capability is still there for users who value ownership and offline flexibility over streaming’s convenience.
The Future of iTunes Downloads
While they no longer dominate Apple’s music business, paid downloads still have niche appeal that should keep them around on iTunes for the foreseeable future.
However, it’s unlikely we’ll see any dramatic growth in download sales again. Streaming now accounts for over 80% of global music industry revenue and that figure is only climbing.
Apple’s focus is clearly on boosting its Apple Music streaming subscriber base, which stands at over 60 million currently.
It’s possible we could see Apple phase out music downloads on iTunes within the next 5-10 years as streaming becomes more ubiquitous. But for now, they are still supporting customers who prefer to buy and own specific tracks or albums digitally.
The music industry is always evolving. But iTunes has proven adept at connecting fans with music in both the download and streaming eras. Downloads helped kickstart the digital music revolution, and streaming has taken it even further. iTunes will likely continue to serve both markets for years to come.
While streaming services have overtaken downloads in popularity, the iTunes Store still offers an extensive catalog of music to purchase and own digitally. Users can download individual tracks, albums, music videos and more at competitive prices with good audio quality. Downloads provide offline listening capability, higher fidelity options, and permanent access rights compared to streaming.
iTunes downloads can be played across Apple devices and apps, as well as Android and MP3 players with some file conversion. The iTunes Store is still a great source for purchasing downloads if you value ownership, sound quality, extensive catalogs and bonuses that streaming can’t match. Music consumption preferences are highly personal. Thankfully, listeners in 2023 have excellent choice between downloads and streaming to meet their individual needs. If your listening habits favor ownership and offline flexibility over streaming’s convenience, then iTunes downloads remain a great option worth looking into.