Ever since the iTunes store opened, digital music has been growing at a torrid pace. Millions of tracks, that you can buy on a whim? Of course that’s selling well. But, uh, less well than it has been in the past.
Most surprising was that it was across the board. Both tracks and albums saw a drop, according to Billboard:
While the digital track sales decline had been expected due to weaker sales in the first three quarters, the digital album downturn comes as more of a surprise as the album bundle had started out the year with a strong first quarter. Overall for the full year 2013, digital track sales fell 5.7% from 1.34 billion units to 1.26 billion units while digital album sales fell 0.1% to 117.6 million units from the previous year’s total of 117.7 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Admittedly, moving a billion units in the US alone is not exactly starvation, but five percent is still an arresting drop. So, aside from iTunes being annoying, what’s behind this drop?
The current theory is that streaming services like Spotify are chipping into digital music sales. Music streaming revenue accounted for 13% of music company revenue in 2012, and that market share only grew in 2013.
This is probably of the biggest concern to musicians. As we’ve mentioned before, major services like Pandora and Spotify aren’t really into the whole idea of “paying musicians for their work.” If streaming becomes the dominant force in the music industry, and it’s starting to look like streaming music is going to be a major player in the next decade, it may wind up putting a lot of musicians to work in an office.