Sources: Nielsen (2005-2015); Projections of digital music news (2016-2021)
Who downloads more? By 2021, the real answer will be hardly anyoneat least at the paid level.
Last year, paid song downloads fell again 12.5%, according to preliminary details published by Nielsen Soundscan. In the past two years alone, the decline has been 23.4%paid downloads from sources such as iTunes and Amazon dropping below the billion mark for the first time since 2007.
As a result, the music world will experience a more dramatic drop in downloads in 2016, with 12.5% dropping to 18%, according to conservative DMN estimates. The decline will then accelerate to 25% in 2017, with a 40% drop expected in 2019.
The reasons for this are not mysterious: last year, the number of music streams doubled to 317.2 billion streams in the United States alone, thanks to explosive growth on Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music , among others. This is directly killing paid downloads, with Apple accelerating the plunge by aggressively pushing consumers into Apple Music streaming accounts.
The rest, as they say, will be history, with downloads occupying a niche in the music listening experience, alongside CDs and other marginalized formats.
Meanwhile, future music fans will benefit from better connections, better localized caching, and a much more transparent level of access to cloud-based streaming music. Sounds like dramatic progress, except for the devastating impact this will have on artist and label royalties.
The math is mind-boggling: right off the bat, a paid download represents at least 140 times turnover equivalent stream, and this is a best-case scenario based on aggressive per-stream royalty estimates. Independent labels, many of whom have wholeheartedly embraced streaming in the name of technological progress, will likely be the first group to suffer massive financial consequences.