It’s a small victory—but a victory is a victory.
After 13 years of floundering while trying to navigate a rapidly changing musical landscape, there are clear signs that the industry is beginning to right itself. According to the annual Digital Music Report from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), music sales revenues rose globally by 0.3%–the first such increase since 1999, when Napster and other digital sharing sites began turning the market on its ear.
While illegal downloading continues to play a role in the lower market share, and while elements of the music industry “old guard” continue their reluctance to embrace the new digital landscape, the digital aspect of the market is now proving to be the industry’s salvation. With a 9% growth rate between 2011 and 2012, legal digital downloads now account for over 50 percent of music sales in the U.S. and over a third of sales worldwide. Another contributor to overall increase in income is the streaming music subscription service sector, which saw an increase in memberships of 44 percent last year, according to the report.
We’ll have to leave specifics to the statisticians and number crunchers, but as one who is deeply interested in such trends, I am inclined to believe that this is a sign that the music industry is starting to find a balance, as it always has in times past when new technology threw the industry into upheaval. (Some will recall that many people thought cassette tapes would kill the music industry, and similarly the advent of CDs.) While piracy continues to plague the market, smart, out-of-the-box thinkers continue to come up with delivery options for the public that are simpler and more convenient than illegal downloading, which is beginning to chip away at music piracy in general. (I personally think cloud-based streaming is a brilliant idea that has been a major player in this reversal.)
The fact is, music will always be in demand, and I believe eventually the music market will always a balance—a way to deliver the product while helping to keep the musicians fed. While many musicians are still a long way from profitability, this modest revenue gain is a very good sign, and bodes well for the future of the industry.