Apple Computer Inc.’s popular iTunes Music Store appeared to be back to normal Thursday, two days after shoppers wielding new iPods and gift cards faced error messages and long delays while trying to download songs.
Apple officials didn’t return telephone calls Thursday and the company has not explained why some shoppers on Monday and Tuesday experienced 20-minute delays to download a song.
But Wall Street analysts said the delays were probably caused by music sales that dramatically exceeded the Cupertino-based company’s own forecasts and resulted in too many people trying to access the site at once.
Four times as many people visited the iTunes on Christmas than at the same time last year, according to online market researcher Hitwise.
Frazzled users began posting urgent help messages Monday and Tuesday on Apple's technical forum for iTunes, complaining they were either not allowed into the store or were told the system couldn't process their request to download songs and videos.
It was not immediately clear how many people were affected by the slowdowns.
Dan Frakes, a senior editor at Macworld magazine and playlistmag.com, a Web site focused on digital music, said he and some colleagues were unable to access the iTunes store or received error messages when they tried to download songs early this week.
However, others breezed through the process hassle-free, and Frakes successfully downloaded songs again on Wednesday. He said the problem likely was not as widespread as the frustrated discussion group chatter might indicate.
"The store itself was working, there was just too much traffic," he said. "It's a good bet that most people were able to get through."
Analysts said they didn't anticipate a rash of iPod returns because of the delays.
Instead, "It's actually created more positive buzz among analysts — traffic was so great it blew up the site," said Gene Munster, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray. "If anything it could be a positive — demand was better than they were expecting."
Apple commands about 75 percent of the market for downloaded music, but could lose as much as 5 percent of that market share in 2007 because of increased competition from rival services, according to Piper Jaffray.
The company’s stock price fell more than 1 percent to $80.49 in Thursday afternoon trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
"What you're seeing is the tremendous success of the iPod," said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director with JupiterResearch. "No doubt it was a very, very popular gift, and no matter how well you plan on the server side of the equation, there are always times when you get caught short."