By Jack Sharkey, February 23, 2017
There is no doubt streaming is the future of music consumption. But it’s also safe to say the world of streaming is a bit of the Wild West right now. From what artists get paid (as opposed to what the streaming platforms and record labels get paid) to which service offers the best quality sound and depth of library, the terra is not very firma. At the pace technology is advancing, in just a few short years we’ll know. Or maybe not. The future is still unwritten.
However, there are a few interesting trends. Last week Business Insider's Tech Trends (February 17, 2017) reported the results of a poll taken back in September that showed some surprising realities in the world of digital music.
At 30%, iTunes is still the preferred way most people consume their music, but this probably has more to do with the fact that most music consumers have spent the past ten years buying music from iTunes. From a user standpoint there is little difference between streaming Spotify or playing your massive iTunes library. Age is also a factor. This poll queried all adults; if we were to look only at Millennials and the younger Gen Xers, it’s safe to say those numbers would change drastically.
Still, the results are a good reminder that the technology is new and that arguments for or against which format is “better” will only be settled by the long view of how consumers choose to purchase their music.
In January, Business Insider's Tech Trends (January 16, 2017) reported that the change in each of the platforms from 2014 through 2016 was also pretty drastic. Over the period, streaming services grew 74% while digital single sales fell 25%. This doesn’t mean more people were streaming than downloading, it just means streaming services grew from their previously tiny share of the overall market while single downloads declined from their lion’s share of the market. Streaming is not yet the number one way we get our music but it is safe to say the growth in streaming makes that a temporary fact.
For perspective, in 2013 sales of physical CDs fell 14.5% from 193.4 million units to 165.4 units. That’s still a lot of CDs, so in spite of reports to the contrary, the CD is not dead. Yet. (Billboard Biz January 3, 2014). It’s also important to note 2013 was the first year to see a decline in sales from digital downloads, so the trends may be moving slower than we thought.
Looking at streaming today, it seems Spotify and Apple Music are the horses to bet on, but will that still be the case this time next year? Or two years from now? Only time will tell.