Music History

Great Trivia Question! What Was the First Thing Ever Sold Online (Hint: It Has to Do with Music)

Now that Black Friday is here–when did this become A Thing outside of the US?–it’s a good time to reflect on how much our shopping habits have changed over the decades. Sure, we could line up overnight outside the WalMart so we can trample the poor greeter when the doors open at 5am. But so far, I’ve done 90% of my shopping for the season online. God bless PayPal.

Which brings me to a fascinating trivia question. Well, I find it fascinating. What was the first item ever sold online?  And by that I mean the first complete transaction in which goods were ordered and paid for electronically.

You might point to a 1971 geek-to-geek connection where one arranged a meeting place to buy dope from the other. Good try, but that was merely communication for the purposes of setting up a transaction.

What about the British grandmother who ordered up some groceries in 1984? Close, but when the deliveryman showed up at her door, she paid in cash. That doesn’t pass the e-commerce test.

Was it Pizza Hut’s online transactions that began in 1994? Maybe, but that might have been more marketing hype than fact.

If we drill down deep enough, we’ll learn that the first proper e-commerce transaction was conducted by Dan Kohn of New Hampshire. Dan was an early adopter of the consumer-facing Internet and set up a company called NewMarket. On August 11, 1994, he processed the first proper e-commerce transaction using a secure PGP connection, selling a copy of Sting’s Ten Summoner’s Tales CD to his friend for $12.48. (That’s about $20 in today’s dollars, by the way.)

Sting - 10 Summoner's Tales

Now consider this: today’s online consumer market is worth about $1.672 trillion. And to think it all started with a stupid Sting CD…

Read more at Fast Company.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38573 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Great Trivia Question! What Was the First Thing Ever Sold Online (Hint: It Has to Do with Music)

Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.