There is plenty of good news in the music industry’s latest sales report released this week. Streaming is up. Vinyl has continued its unlikely renaissance. And did we mention that streaming is up?
But a closer look shows that the big sales numbers that have sustained the recorded music business for years are way down, and it is hard to see how they could ever return to where they were even a decade ago.
Revenue from music sales in the United States has hovered around $7 billion since 2010, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). For 2015, the number was $7.02 billion, up slightly less than 1 percent from 2014.
Within that steady total, however, have been drastic shifts in listener behavior. CDs and downloads have been gradually abandoned as streaming has become the platform of choice.
The result is that the music industry finds itself fighting over pennies while waving goodbye to dollars. For instance, the growing but still specialized market for vinyl records is generating more revenue than the music on YouTube, one of the biggest destinations on the Internet, but that’s because YouTube pays royalties in the tiniest fractions of cents.
Streaming — whether through paid subscriptions to Spotify or Rhapsody; Internet radio from Pandora; or even videos on YouTube — now makes up 34.3 percent of sales, edging out digital downloads as the industry’s biggest source of revenue. In 2015, the year that Apple Music arrived and Tidal was reintroduced by Jay Z, paid subscription services generated $1.2 billion in sales in the United States. After adding in free streaming platforms and Internet radio, the total for streaming is $2.4 billion.
Read more of Ben Sisario and Karl Russell’s eye-opening report here on The New York Times.