Update: Bain’s chart turned out to be inaccurate — see this story for clarification.
Everybody knows that the music industry was utterly ruined by greedy downloaders with no regard for copyright or culture. Right?
It’s not quite that simple. As shown by the above chart, which was created with RIAA sales data and Bain’s analysis, music shipments were stronger in 2009 than they were in the LP age, the cassette age, the 8-track age, and much of the CD age.
To be fair, this chart shows shipments declining sharply after 2005. But it’s worth keeping in mind that RIAA member labels sold and otherwise shipped more dollars-worth of music in America throughout the post-Napster decade than it did in the ’70s and ’80s.
The big question implied by the chart is whether digital music sales and subscription fees will grow fast enough to halt the ongoing decline in physical media sales, and clearly, so far, they are not.
The digital music subscription service with the fastest rate of adoption, Spotify, is only available in a few European countries, and has been reportedly losing money despite its large market share. Apple’s decision to raise music subscription prices by 30 percent across the board for any services that wish to sell through iTunes (i.e. all of them) isn’t likely to help.
Regardless, as the chart indicates, it may not make much sense to use the height of the compact disc era (fueled in part by fans replacing LPs and cassettes with CDs) as the main reference point for determining the health of today’s music industry — especially when YouTube reports a 200- to 300-percent increase in its payouts to record labels during 2010.