Apple Becomes Top U.S. Music Retailer

Some of us knew it was going to happen; it was just a matter of when.

Over the last several Apple events, it seemed as if Steve Jobs would always throw a graphic up on the big screen behind him to show the progress iTunes had been making against more traditional, established music retailers.

Today, Apple finally lays claim to the industry's top spot: No. 1 music retailer -- surpassing Wal-Mart Stores ! -- based on the latest data from NPD.

Apple says that with over 50 million customers, iTunes has now sold over 4 billion songs and features the world's largest music catalog, with six million tracks. About 19 percent of all music purchases are done on iTunes, compared to 15 percent at Wal-Mart. Customers bought a stunning 200 million songs last Christmas Day alone.

In a release this afternoon, iTunes general manager Eddy Cue says, "We launched iTunes less than five years ago, and it has now become the number one music retailer in the world. We are thrilled and would like to thank all of our customers for helping us reach this incredible milestone."

And a heck of a milestone it is. The company has regularly been gobbling up market share from the likes of Target , Best Buy , Amazon , Wal-Mart and others for some time. And Apple's ascension into the top spot comes amid increasing competition in the marketplace. Seems like everyone is trying to get into the online music business. Just like News Corp.'s MySpace!

Apple certainly wasn't the first, but it established itself as the easiest to use. Of course, that didn't come without ruffled feathers and some controversy over pricing and the so-called closed eco-system of iPod/iPhone and iTunes.

Controversies aside, Apple owns the market. And it eclipsed all its competitors in just five years -- that's a staggering achievement.

And looking over the list, another tid-bit worth mentioning: RealNetworks and its Rhapsody service cracked the Top 10 with 1 percent of the market. Not much, sure, but its partnerships with MTV, Nokia and Yahoo could help the company continue to gain ground.

Questions? Comments?