TV-PGJanuary 25, 2005: The iTunes Music Store sells its quarter-billionth song. Meanwhile, Creative's "War on Apple" fizzles early as the company misses its shipment forecast by 50 percent, and the new iTunes-Pepsi giveaway doesn't start until next week, but yellow-capped bottles are already available far and wide...
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.25 Gigasongs And Counting (1/25/05)

Sorry about the extended absence, folks, but between head colds, blizzards, and suddenly-moved-up deadlines, we've been slightly preoccupied for the past six days. (Actually, we blew three of 'em on a really tough word-hunt puzzle we found on a Denny's placemat-- did you know that they even hide the words backwards? Crafty fiends!) So forgive us for the momentary lapse of AtATian activity, and give us a little time to get caught up on current events; it probably won't take all that long, since the post-Expo doldrums appear to have settled in a bit at last, but there were definitely a few noteworthy occurrences in the past week that we ought to tackle before they get too stale. Case in point: it's time once again to check in with Apple for yet another iTunes Music Store song sales milestone.

We know, we know-- "Already? Didn't we just do that?" Well, kinda, yeah... and that's sort of the point. See, the reason why Apple's iTMS milestones seem to be coming more and more frequently is because, um, they are. When Apple issued its press release yesterday announcing that the iTMS has now passed the quarter-billion songs point, it came a mere 40 days after the last milestone, the Big 2-0-0-comma-0-0-0-comma-0-0-0, which touched down in the middle of last month.

That's the shortest interval between milestones yet, and since the iTMS shows no signs of slowing down, you should probably get used to these updates coming fast and furious; faithful viewer and semi-official iTMS Milestone Statskeeper Scott Naness confirms that, just as Apple announced, Apple is now selling about one-and-a-quarter million songs each and every day. That's a startling 55 percent increase over Apple's average iTMS sales rate just six weeks ago, which may or may not be sustainable-- apparently all those folks who found an iPod under the tree last month decided they just had to go load 'em up with iTMSy goodness right away, so don't be surprised if the rate drops slightly next time around, what with Christmas being over and all. Then again, given the fact that people seem to be snarfing up iPod shuffles like so many Totino's Pizza Rolls, don't be surprised if it goes up again, either.

By the way, how do you suppose Scott Blum of the ill-fated iTMS rip-off reacted to the news? Remember, this was a guy who actually thought his service would sell a million songs per day and hit "200 million to 300 million downloads in the first year." It sure must sting a little that the very service he trashed to anyone with a microphone just broke his own sales goal and currently has a run rate of half a billion songs per year, while his own service bombed so completely that it was reabsorbed into the main web site just nine months after he blew an obscene wad of cash on marketing to launch the thing. Then again, given the sheer absurdity of his BuyMusic estimates in the first place, he's probably too perennially stoned to be able to read Apple's press release, let alone care what it says. C'mon, the man spent $40 million to slap giant posters of a naked Tommy Lee all over Times Square; does this sound like the act of someone who isn't on serious drugs?

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At War With Mr. Magoo (1/25/05)

Speaking of delusional megalomaniacs talking smack about outselling Apple in the digital music realm, do you happen to recall back in November when Sim Wong Hoo (the CEO of rival portable music player manufacturer Creative Technology) "declared war" on the iPod? You could just about hear the lil' guy's saber go rattle-rattle-rattle as he pledged to sink $100 million into serious advertising for his company's Zen and Nomad players, with the intent of unseating Apple from the top sales spot by the end of 2004. We know what you're thinking: mid-November is an awfully late time to be undertaking such a monumental year-end goal, but hey, Sim Wong Hoo claimed that Creative was on track to sell "over 3 million devices" in the December quarter, which he figured would vault the company into the lead. He would then perch mightily on his warlord throne, trying to decide whether Steve Jobs's head on a pike would look better next to the coffee table, or over there in the corner in place of the ficus.

There's just one little problem with Creative's whole "we're going to overtake Apple" plan: selling 3 million players wouldn't have done it-- not by a long shot. Sure, Apple "only" sold 2 million iPods in the third calendar quarter, so maybe it was a reasonable assumption, but as you're all well aware, by the time the dust had settled and all that remained of the holiday shopping season was a body count and a fine red mist hanging in the air, consumers had scooped up 4.5 million iPods of various shapes, sizes, and colors for themselves and their loved ones. So, far from overtaking Apple, Creative sales of 3 million would have hardly put the teensiest ding in Apple's solid worldwide lead.

Actually, make that two problems: as it turns out, whether or not sales of 3 million Zens 'n' Nomads would have popped Creative into first place over Apple is sort of a moot point, because Creative didn't even come close to selling that many units last quarter anyway. According to The Register, when Creative posted its quarterly earnings last week, it was forced to admit that it had, in fact, only sold 2 million players in the holiday quarter. Not only was that number far too few to knock Apple out of the top spot, but it was also few enough that Apple extended its lead over Creative; in the previous quarter Apple had sold 70 percent more players than Creative, but last quarter that jumped to 125 percent. So Creative is losing ground, not gaining it. (Apparently no one ever told Sim Wong Hoo never to fight a land war in Asia.)

Perhaps most troubling of all (well, not to us, we guess, but still) is that, six weeks from the end of the quarter, Creative's CEO actually overestimated the company's unit shipments-- to the press, no less-- by a full 50 percent, which is a forecasting blunder the likes of which we haven't seen since the depths of Apple's Amelio Dynasty. If Sim Wong Hoo's aim is that crappy, we can certainly understand if Apple isn't taking that whole "declaration of war" thing too seriously; after all, this is evidently a guy who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn if it were glued to both barrels.

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A Head Start On Guzzlefest (1/25/05)

We've got one last item to catch up on: remember how Apple and Pepsi are about to redo that whole iTunes song giveaway from last year? While there are plans to make it bigger and better than the original promo (200 million songs, a free iPod mini given away every hour, a fresh new citrus scent, etc.), many people are understandably concerned that Pepsi will muff the whole thing once more by forgetting to put yellow-capped bottles on shelves again until about thirty seconds before the giveaway ends. Sure, there are other possible ways for Pepsi to screw things up, such as by raising prices to $4.98 for a 20-ouncer or dipping each bottle in bat guano, but history indicates that neglecting to ship the game pieces is the likeliest scenario by far.

Well, you can unclench slightly; it looks like Pepsi learned its lesson, because cap distribution is reportedly already about a gazillion times better than it was last year. We've gotten reports from all over the country from viewers who've spotted isolated clusters of yellow-capped bottles already on store shelves and in vending machines-- and the promo doesn't even officially start until this Monday. Better yet, there have been multiple yellow-cap sightings in Los Angeles, a market that didn't get any game pieces in the last giveaway until it was practically too late to redeem them. No excuses this time around, folks; the goods are out there, so get ready to suck down fizzy sugar water by the gallon, all for the sake of feeding your iPod.

So in a few months, we'll get to see if lousy cap distribution was indeed the main factor in the last promo's truly pathetic 5 percent redemption rate, although the explosive increase in iPod users in the past year makes for a shockingly unscientific test. Personally, between the early shipment of yellow caps and all these new iPod users milling around, we're optimistically expecting something in the range of 20 percent success, which breaks down to 40 million free songs downloaded by customers in insulin shock. Given that Apple currently sells that many songs in a month, it's not as much of a potential boost to Apple's download count as it might have been, but hey, every little bit helps.

Incidentally, we're receiving conflicting reports on the status of The Tilt: some viewers tell us that current yellow-capped bottles have a pattern molded into the bottle's neck which makes peeking at the cap's underside impossible, while others say that nothing's changed and a quick tilt of the bottle will let you pick a winner every time. So what gives? Is Pepsi actually mixing in some unshipped yellow-capped bottles from last year's promo? Mmmm... old soda. Get chugging, folks!

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