In the process he helped push us further from the world of buying CDs in physical form because suddenly there was music democracy. Rather than propping up the dying CD as a format, Jobs and iTunes made it okay to buy music online and tell the record labels what we wanted rather than having their system forced down our throats. If you didn’t want to buy an album full of filler, you didn’t have to – you could go online to the iTunes store and for ten bucks buy your own personalized “Greatest Hits” collection. And it was completely legal.
Yet he also opened the distribution world up to the masses. Prior to iTunes, you could go online and steal any album you wanted, but there was always the sense that you were one step away from the RIAA suing you to the point of bankruptcy if you made a wrong move. What iTunes did was make it possible for a user to find any album covered under its licensing deal and buy it immediately. Talk about opening up worlds of musical discovery to the masses!
When I was a teenager, prior to having access to the Internet my only way to purchase new music was to buy from WalMart or wait for an album to be available from one of the many “record clubs” I subscribed to. In rare instances I’d get the opportunity to drive an hour or two to a city with a decent record store, but for the most part I had to bide my time and money and then buy the music which was available. That system worked well enough if something I wanted was in the pop vein, but I spent years slowly collecting music from outside the mainstream.
Kids today can thank Steve Jobs for the fact that they’ve got it all at their fingertips. Any album can build a reputation online and find an audience. It’s no longer necessary to have your music distributed into a brick-and-mortar store, and that seemed truly revolutionary even a decade ago. Playlists took off, as it became popular to ask famous people “what’s on your iPod?”
Jobs wasn’t happy just leading the mp3 revolution. He spent the rest of his life working to transform cell phones to “smart” phones, laptops into sleek “notepads.” There’s no limit to what he could have done in the coming years if he’d been granted a longer life, and his impact will clearly be felt across the tech spectrum for generations.
It has been said that Jobs was rarely the first person to do something, but when he did it, he did it so well everyone else had to follow him or get out of the business. That’s going to be his legacy. Whether anyone has the skills and the personality to forge a path into the next decade of creation in his image remains to be seen, but no one’s going to be forgetting his impact any time soon.