The music business is growing again — really growing — and it’s because of streaming
Familiar song, new tempo: Music streaming is big, and getting bigger fast. Digital downloads are falling off a cliff. Oh, and one more familiar refrain: The music industry loves the money it’s getting from subscription services like Spotify and Apple Music, but it wants YouTube to pay them much more. All of this comes from the RIAA, the music industry’s U.S. trade group, which has a new update on sales figures and a standard complaint about Google’s video service.
First, the numbers: You already know this, but we are fully in the streaming era now, and things are accelerating. More than 30 million people are now paying for subscription streaming service in the U.S., which pushed streaming revenue up 48 percent, to $2.5 billion, in the first half of the year. Streaming now accounts for 62 percent of the U.S. music business.
Spotify, Apple Music and other services have 30 million U.S. subscribers, and streaming revenue is up 48 percent so far this year.
And that’s pushing the overall music business back up again, after a fall that started in 1999, with the ascent of Napster, and didn’t stop until a couple years ago. Retail sales were up 17 percent, to $4 billion, and wholesale shipments were up 14.6 percent, to $2.7 billion. Meanwhile, iTunes-style digital download sales continue to fall. They’re down 24 percent. Because why buy songs for a dollar when you can legally stream (almost) anything you want for a price that ranges between zero and $10 a month?
One surprise: Physical sales — things you buy that you can hold in your hand, like in the olden days — are nearly flat, down just 1 percent. That’s partly because of you hipsters and your facial hair, who pushed vinyl sales up 3 percent. But it’s also because some of you still like CDs, and maybe you’re always going to like CDs. Those sales were only down 3 percent.