Here’s the bad news: album sales in the U.S. are down to levels not seen in decades. And here’s some other news: music consumers may spend $46 billion on streaming services by 2018.
The last part is not labeled as good news because it depends on the perspective. For example, if you are in the business of selling albums, neither of those pieces of information are particularly good news. If you are an artist in the business of selling your music, however, the $46 billion number may be great news.
ABI Research reports that subscription services will generate $46 billion in consumer spending over the next six years, which will amount to about $32 billion in trade value for the industry. While many -- including Billboard -- are reporting that this may be a very optimistic forecast, the fact remains that subscription services are gaining subscribers at high rates; in fact, ABI reports that the number of total subscribers will reach 29 million by the end of this year.
And many more users are likely to come in the coming years, particularly as Apple iTunes Radio and Google Play All Access Music, both announced this year, come into the market. The question is whether all of these services will act to complement to album sales, or if they will become a replacement for sales. While many in the industry have not seen streaming service as a major threat to album sales, if these forecasts prove true, they may be rethinking their stance.
Billboard also reports that U.S. album sales -- both physical and digital -- have been below 5 million for each of the past five consecutive weeks. That’s the first time that has happened since Nielsen SoundScan began counting album sales in 1991. Additionally, for the past two of those weeks, album sales have hit record lows.
The music trade magazine reports that CD sales are down 14.1 percent so far this year compared to the same time last year. While digital album sales have increased, their rate of increase is not as high as it has been in the past few years.
Still, this may not tell the whole story. Summer is known for having fairly unimpressive release lineups anyway, so that may be factoring into the sales slump. Additionally, it is too early to tell how correlated the rise in streaming subscriptions is to the fall of album sales. The subscription market is still in its infancy, and time will tell the lasting implications of the new industry. It hasn’t yet been proven how many people will be willing to pay for subscriptions -- and perhaps more importantly, it hasn’t been shown how much they are willing to pay, either.
What we do know now, however, is that on-demand subscription services like Spotify are major players in the digital music industry, and can be a great way for indie artists to spread the word about their music.