November 11, 2010 at 11:19 am

Americans Now Stream Music As Often As They Download

For the first time, music fans in the United States are approximately as likely to stream music as to download it, according to numbers shared with by the NPD Group market analysis firm.

Apparently, the purchasing of downloaded music from iTunes or Amazon — or even the free downloading of songs from peer-to-peer file sharing networks — cannot compete with the allure of clicking a link and having the song play instantly.

In the United States, music downloads and streams were nearly even in terms of popularity in August, according to NPD Group’s latest numbers, and are likely now in a dead heat. The percentage of Americans who downloaded music to a Mac or Windows computer at least once per week increased from 29 percent in March to 30 percent in August, said an NPD Group spokesman (who declined to be named because only NPD analysts can be quoted officially). Meanwhile, 29 percent of Americans streamed music in August at least once per week, up from 25 percent in March. (In such studies, a one point difference is within the margin of error.)

These stats paint a clear picture.

Not only is music streaming growing faster than music downloading in the United States, but if the trend continues it will become the dominant computer music listening behavior in this country in a matter of months — and that’s before you take into account smartphone and television streaming.

The tipping point from downloading to streaming took place in France earlier this week, and these numbers indicate that we’re next.

They also back up the contention that music streaming services hurt not only music download stores but file sharing networks — a position often espoused by the long-awaited Spotify music service, which claims that its free streaming feature attracts P2P downloaders to its licensed music services, for which they will pay once they get hooked.

Music fans: The writing is on the wall. It might not be too long before you start to view the precious downloads you’ve gathered over the years as a waste of disk space.