FORTUNE -- Analysts tend to think of the iTunes store as a metaphor. It's a "moat" that protects Apple (AAPL) from competitors. Or something "sticky" -- like honey or flypaper -- that keeps fickle customers from flying away.
But since Apple reclassified its revenues in January and consolidated iTunes, Software and Services into one line item, it's become clear that iTunes is also a large and fast-growing business in its own right, one that generated $12.9 billion in fiscal 2012.
If iTunes had been listed separately in the current Fortune 500, it would have come in at No. 218, ahead of Texas Instruments, Nordstrom and Con Ed.
iTunes, Software, Services was the company's second fastest growing revenue stream in fiscal Q2. When Apple reports its earnings on Tuesday, according to Fortune's panel of Apple analysts, it will have passed both the iPhone and the iPad to take first place in terms of year-over-year growth.
iTunes estimates were optional in our quarterly polling, but so far we've received numbers from 40 analysts -- 21 Wall Street professionals and 19 amateurs.
Their estimates ranged from the high of $5.35 billion submitted by Baird's William Power to a low of $3.3 billion from Sunil Shah, an independent from the Braeburn Group.
The average estimate -- $4.1 billion -- is 28% higher than the $3.20 billion listed for the same quarter last year in Apple's "reclassified summary spreadsheet."
In a reversal of their usual roles, the Street is more bullish about iTunes this quarter than the amateurs. The pros are calling for 31% growth; the amateurs for 25%.
We'll find out who was closest to the mark when Apple reports its earnings for fiscal Q3 2013 after the markets close on Tuesday, July 23.
Below: The individual analysts estimates, with the pros in blue and the indies in green. Thanks once again to Posts at Eventide's Robert Paul Leitao for pulling together the Braeburn Group numbers.
As the number of accounts grows exponentially, revenue per account is falling. Why?
FORTUNE -- In a post titled "What's an iTunes user worth?" Asymco's Horace Dediu used the number of iTunes accounts Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook announced Monday -- 575 million -- to draw the graph at right. It shows user accounts growing nearly six fold since 2009 -- a growth rate of nearly half a million per day, or 44% MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jun 15, 2013 12:40 PM ET
iTunes radio will work a lot like Pandora, but is the company too late to the big music party in the cloud?
By Ryan Bradley, senior editor
FORTUNE -- The short answer to the above question is no, the longer answer is maybe, and -- if you really want to speculate and think long-term -- the ultimate answer may be that iTunes, in terms of music listening, is irrelevant. Let's back MOREJun 11, 2013 12:57 PM ET
"iRadio" is reported to launch next week. What we know (and don't), and what we should be asking.
By Ryan Bradley, senior editor
FORTUNE -- It's a Pandora-killer; it's going to take on Spotify; it will be streaming and almost certainly free.
1. Apple upended the music industry once, can it do it again?
Probably not. The company is late to the streaming game and, besides, music -- once the core of iTunes MOREJun 4, 2013 1:04 PM ET
Its new music service -- Google Play Music All Access -- has features that are similar to both competitors.
By Ryan Bradley, senior editor
FORTUNE -- After months of buildup, on Wednesday Google announced a new, subscription-based streaming music service called Google Play Music All Access. The name may be clunky, but the offerings appear bountiful.
Google (GOOG) secured deals with three of the four major record labels—Universal Music, Sony, and Warner MOREMay 15, 2013 1:39 PM ET
First Bloomberg, now Reuters, have boiled Apple down to a two-word editorial formula.
FORTUNE -- How do you describe a company that grew like gangbusters but has entered a patch of slower growth?
Some desk editors at the business news services have hit on what they seem to think is the perfect phrase: Apple (AAPL) is "losing steam."
Last week it was Bloomberg News with this headline:
Harvard Liquidates Apple Stake After IPhone Sales MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - May 14, 2013 11:13 AM ET
The Apple faithful are getting restless for new products.
By Kurt Wagner, reporter
FORTUNE -- As if a plunging stock price, slowing earnings growth, and customer-service woes in China weren't enough, Apple hasn't released a new product since October, when it released the iPad Mini. In three of the past four years, Apple has held a signature new-product event in March, but not this year. Were the company to wait until MOREApr 2, 2013 7:23 AM ET
A "break even" line item is suddenly generating more than $2 billion in profits per year.
FORTUNE -- Most analysts skipped over it, but ever since January Asymco's Horace Dediu has been trying to wrap his mind around a change in the way Apple reports certain line items. For example, what used to be called "Other related music products and services" is now called "iTunes, Software and Services" and consolidates, for MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 25, 2013 7:25 AM ET
Exclusive: Google is planning to roll out a music streaming service to capitalize on the power of YouTube.
By Ryan Bradley and Jessi Hempel
FORTUNE -- YouTube, the world's largest digital repository of streaming media, will launch a subscription music service later this year. The service has its own negotiating team and operating unit but will likely have some overlap with new features also rumored to be coming to Google's Android MOREMar 5, 2013 10:35 AM ET
Apple's CEO Tim Cook didn't bring up the company's most talked-about rumors. And that may be very telling.
FORTUNE -- Listening to a Tim Cook interview is like watching an old episode of Seinfeld. Nothing really happens, so the trick is to interpret the nothingness.
For example, Cook said nothing in his appearance Tuesday morning at a Goldman Sachs (GS) conference in San Francisco about whether or not Apple (AAPL) will produce MOREAdam Lashinsky, Sr. Editor at Large - Feb 12, 2013 1:48 PM ET
|Military retirees: You betrayed us, Congress|
|Instagram launches direct messaging|
|I work 4 jobs and I'm still struggling|
|Stocks sink as disappointing December continues|
|Ford set for most aggressive expansion in 50 years|