Music IndustryRadio

Will Streaming Kill Downloading in 2017? (Parts 1, 2 and 3)

It’s been a long time since I’ve bought a CD; in fact, I probably bought more vinyl in 2016 than I did compact discs. But more than anything, I purchased digital files through iTunes–lots of them. Then again, I buy a lot of music for work purposes, so I’m not exactly typical.

Apple doesn’t break out how much music they sell through iTunes, but I’d bet the farm that revenues have been shrinking steadily–and probably alarmingly. Why spend $1.29 on a single track when for $9.99 (Or less. Or free.) you can access 35 million songs almost instantly?  Apple saw the writing on the wall a long time ago, which is why they bought Beats and pushed ahead with the launch of Apple Music.

Many of us will still continue to buy physical and digital material–that sort of thing will be with us for a long time yet, far beyond 2017–but it won’t be long before streaming dominates. Streaming is the future of the mass consumption of music–and given the way things are going, 2017 is going to be some kind of tipping point. The Guardian goes deeper into the situation.

The digital download, ushered in to the mass market more than a decade ago by Apple’s iTunes music store, is in rapid decline as people shift to streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music.

The shift from downloads to streaming is highlighted by the biggest-selling singles of this year and 2006, when Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy became the first download-only song to top the UK charts, in a sign the digital format was eclipsing CD sales. Crazy shifted nearly 661,000 units during its nine weeks at UK No 1 and went on to sell more than 1m downloads.

This summer, Drake’s One Dance matched the record achieved by Wet Wet Wet’s Love Is All Around for 15 weeks at No 1 in the UK singles chart – which now combines download, physical and streaming equivalent sales. By the end of September, it had racked up 1.695m sales, including nearly 505,000 downloads and a whopping 119m streams.

Streaming’s advantages are that you can listen to any of millions of tracks whenever you like, and create playlists; paying subscribers can also download individual tracks for offline listening. The disadvantage: if you stop paying the monthly stipend of about £10, the access, playlists and downloads evaporate.

By contrast, a purchased download lasts forever – but it’s the only thing you can listen to.

Keep reading. Once you’re done, take a gander at this debate:

Part One: Why Isn’t Your Music Everywhere?

Below is Part One of a Four part series of discussions from the perspective of a music industry professional (Vanessa) and from the view of a music consumer (Aaron).

Music distribution is changing rapidly. The market has become increasingly fragmented, giving users the ability to define their consumption style from tapes and vinyl to streaming platforms and, yes, pirated downloads. There are just so many ways to distribute music directly from bands and more traditionally with labels and distribution companies as middlemen, but there are just as many gaps in the supply chain and many poor decisions being made from start to finish — Aaron and Vanessa are here to figure out why sometimes it seems so easy to sell but many bands and labels get it so f*cking wrong.

Read on.

Finally, the New York Times looks at things from their perspective.

By all modern metrics, Drake was far and away the most listened-to artist of 2016, a year when music consumers further abandoned CDs and paid downloads, and turned increasingly to streaming services.

The rapper saw staggering numbers from FM radio to Spotify, where songs from his album “Views” were streamed more than three billion times since their April release, but it was Drake’s exhaustive synergy with Apple Music, where “Views” was played another few billion times, that best illustrated the recent paradigm shifts in the music industry — and signaled where things may yet be headed. (According to Nielsen Music, on-demand streaming now accounts for a larger share of total business — 38 percent — than physical sales, digital album sales or track downloads.)

Even 10 years ago, long after the MP3 had changed everything, the pop industry was fairly diffuse: Major labels serviced music to stores and radio while also handling additional marketing. Music videos, paid for by those labels, had their premieres on MTV or, increasingly, on free online platforms; late-night shows and glossy magazines did interviews around long-planned release dates (remember those?); and the lucrative business of touring was largely a separate concern.

Since its debut in the summer of 2015, however, Apple Music has separated itself from Spotify, the industry’s streaming leader, by trying to become a one-stop shop for major artists — part platform and part promoter.

More here. Once you’re done that, move on to part two. And then be sure to check out part 3, which involves radio (yes, I’m quoted.)


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ 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.

Alan Cross has 38000 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

2 thoughts on “Will Streaming Kill Downloading in 2017? (Parts 1, 2 and 3)

  • Hi Alan,

    This article is sort of timely for me, over the holidays I began to wonder how best to supports artists. Where should we be *buying* albums to make sure the artists get the most money? I assume iTunes is out with their 30% cut so where should I be buying?

    Thanks and Merry Christmas

  • This is what keeps me from streaming exclusively:

    1. Cheap data connections are not ubiquitous. Cheap data storage is.

    2. I don’t trust the suppliers to make the music I want to hear always available — especially if it’s older, pre-internet indie music.

    Simple as that. There’s this assumption out there that anyone who likes a certain bit of older music already has a copy, and it’s not true. Divorces and house fires and burglaries all happen.


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