Is the Era of Buying Songs Over? Maybe.

There’s always going to be a market for selling songs. CDs, vinyl, digital tracks–a not-insignificant number of music consumers will want to possess their music rather than just have access to it through streaming music services.  I’m one of those people. I need physical custody of music to do my job. I can’t create Ongoing History of New Music programs without the songs themselves; streaming isn’t an option when producing audio programming like this. And besides, I’m a collector. I just like to know my music is sitting on a shelf someplace.

But I’m hardly a typical music consumer. Everyone else is slowly moving away from purchasing music to just streaming it.  The Atlantic published this chart summarizing the situation in the US in 2014.

US Music Sales 2014


The Atlantic says:

The recorded music industry is being eaten, not by one simple digital revolution, but rather by revolutions inside of revolutions, mouths inside of mouths, Alien-style. Digitization and illegal downloads kicked it all off. MP3 players and iTunes liquified the album. That was enough to send recorded music’s profits cascading. But today the disruption is being disrupted: Digital track sales are falling at nearly the same rate as CD sales, as music fans are turning to streaming—on iTunes, SoundCloud, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and music blogs. Now that music is superabundant, the business (beyond selling subscriptions to music sites) thrives only where scarcity can be manufactured—in concert halls, where there are only so many seats, or in advertising, where one song or band can anchor a branding campaign.

I’ll say it again: there will always be physical stuff for people to buy. But for the rest of the world, streaming will do fine.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “Is the Era of Buying Songs Over? Maybe.

  • January 26, 2015 at 9:36 am

    That chart could represent the market for anything in which a new technology/product is introduced. The fact is, the music industry got so greedy during the CD era that they removed any sympathy the music buying public may have ever had.

    I may be wrong but I seem to recall that back in the early 90s when they were able to take advantage of people wanting “CD quality sound” to re-sell the same music people already owned in a new format for $20 a disc, while the cost to produce was barely higher than the cost of vinyl at the time. Vinyl releases going for $10 or less.

    NOW they complain because they don;t earn the money they once did when in fact, the truth is they just can’t gouge the consumer they way they once did.


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