Saturday, July 31, 2010

Digital culture timeline: Major events in the transition to pure digital media

The other day I wrote about mourning the loss of cultural businesses – those selling music, movies, books and video games.
Here’s a timeline of major events in the transition of entertainment from a retail business to an online activity.


October 1982: First music album on Compact Disc (CD) released.

June 1999: Online music file-sharing service Napster launched.

July 2001: Napster shut down by court order for copyright violations.

October 2001: Apple debuts the iPod portable music player.

April 2003: Apple opens the iTunes store for legal music downloads.

December 2006: Last Tower Records store in U.S. closes after bankruptcy liquidation. At its peak, the chain had nearly 200 stores in 21 states.

March 2009: Virgin Megastores announces plan to close all of its U.S. record stores.

News articles:

The Graying of the Record Store (New York Times; July 16, 2006)

A Broken Record Store: Industry Icon Tower Is Bankrupt and on the Block (Washington Post; Aug. 23, 2006)

For Tower Records, End of Disc (Washington Post; Dec. 11, 2006)

Record stores closing in U.S. at record rates (Associated Press; March 30, 2008)

Retailing Era Closes With Music Megastore (New York Times; June 14, 2009)

Rough Trade and the future of the record store (Wired; May 27, 2010)

‘I Need That Record!’ Film Explores Plight of Indie Record Stores (AOL; July 27, 2010)


October 1977: VHS videocassette tapes introduced. VHS became the dominant home video format in the mid-1980s after a protracted format war with Betamax.

October 1985: Movie rental chain Blockbuster opens its first store, located in Dallas.

March 1997: DVD optical disc format introduced to U.S. market. It would become the most popular movie rental format in June 2003, surpassing VHS tapes.

December 1999: Netflix debuts its subscription DVD-by-mail service. The company now has 15 million subscribers nationwide.

May 2004: Redbox installs its first 12 machines, at McDonald’s restaurants in Denver, after two years of testing. Redbox now has 23,000 kiosk locations nationwide. It rents movies for $1 a night.

January 2007: Netflix debuts its online streaming video service, but only to PCs initially. It started streaming to TVs, first with the Roku set-top box, in May 2008.

March 2008: Online streaming video service Hulu is launched. Hulu is owned by the parent companies of ABC, NBC and Fox.

May 2010: Video rental store chain Movie Gallery announces that it will close all of its stores. At its peak, the chain had 4,700 stores in North America.

News articles:

Video rental stores fading to black (The Boston Globe; Feb. 23, 2010)

Hollywood Video Closes Doors (Wall Street Journal; May 3, 2010)

It’s A Wrap: Movie Gallery To Close All U.S. Locations (; May 4, 2010)

A Timeline: The Blockbuster Life Cycle (; May 18, 2010)

Analyst: Blockbuster’s Last Gasp to Occur in 2011 (Gizmodo; July 11, 2010)

Blockbuster Hangs On For Dear Life (; July 29, 2010)

Video games

1978: Space Invaders arcade game debuts, ushering in the start of the golden age of arcade video games. It’s soon followed by Asteroids, Pac Man, Donkey Kong and others.

1985: Nintendo’s NES console along with breakout hit game “Super Mario Bros.” fuels the home video game market.

1995: Software retailer Babbage’s begins a series of mergers and acquisitions that lead to the creation of GameStop, the largest specialty retailer of video game software. Its acquisitions include Software Etc. (1995), Funcoland (2000) and Electronics Boutique (2005).

2002: Microsoft launches its Xbox Live service for online multiplayer gaming. An updated version of the service for the Xbox 360 console, launched in November 2005, added game and video downloads.

News articles:

As Blockbuster Falls, Is GameStop Also Doomed? (Seeking Alpha; March 18, 2010)

New GameStop CEO’s Half-Baked Plan to Avoid Blockbuster’s Fate (BNet; July 22, 2010)

GameStop Is Bulking Up to Battle New Rivals (Bloomberg BusinessWeek; July 22, 2010)

A Game-Changer for GameStop? (The Motley Fool: July 30, 2010)


November 2007: debuts its Kindle e-book reader. The first-generation product cost $399.

April 2010: Apple starts selling its iPad media tablet. The entry level model costs $499.

July 2010: unveils its third-generation Kindle, which starts at $139.

News articles:

Borders Seeks e-Book Strategy (Seeking Alpha; May 9, 2010)

Barnes & Noble Planning Big Push to Increase Nook Sales (New York Times; July 29, 2010)

Kindle to Go 'Mass Market' (Wall Street Journal; July 28, 2010)

Photos (from top): Gerosa Records in Brookfield, Conn.; Blockbuster Video store; Space Invaders arcade game and screenshot; and’s third-generation Kindle e-book reader.

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