Thomas Edison developed the original phonograph record in 1877. The first playable records were made from paper pressed between two pieces of tin foil.
On March 15, 1949, RCA Victor became the first label to roll out 45 rpm vinyl records. They were smaller and held less music than the popular 78s and were printed in different colors. Rolling Stone notes, “Teenagers of the Fifties took to the portable, less-expensive format; one ad at the time priced the records at 65 cents each. One of rock’s most cataclysmic early hits, Bill Haley and the Comets’ ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ sold 3 million singles in 1955.”
Unskilled workers in 1955 were earning around 97 cents an hour. This puts the time price of a song at 40 minutes of work.
Apple launched the iTunes Store on April 28, 2003, and sold songs for 99 cents. By this time, unskilled wages had increased to $9.25 an hour. The time price of a song had dropped 84 percent to 6.42 minutes of work. Listeners in 2003 got six songs for the price of one in 1955.
Apple Music launched on June 30, 2015. Today a student can get access to 90 million songs for $5.99 a month. Unskilled workers are earning around $14.53 an hour, so the time price is around 25 minutes of work. Users stream as well as download albums and tracks to devices for offline playback. If a typical song runs three to four minutes, you can play 12,342 songs per month. The time price per song is around one-eighth of a second of work.
For the time it took our grandparents to earn the money to buy one song in 1955, we get 19,750 songs today. Since 1955, personal music abundance has been growing around 15.9 percent a year, doubling in abundance every 4.5 years.
All of the products we enjoy today are the culmination of billions and billions of little bits of knowledge that humans discover and then share with the rest of us in free markets. Create a song and share it with the planet. We can lift ourselves up and make life better for one another.
Do we still have problems? Of course we do. And we will always face challenges. But look at what we have accomplished in the last 200 years. This is what happens when people are free to solve one another’s problems.