This report contains our annual assessment and forecasts for recorded music, in the context, as always, of the implacable physical-to-digital transition in music consumption and purchase, which continues to drain the topline of the recorded music industry.
Although 2011 was another year of decline in global recorded music retail sales, these fell just 4% in 2011 compared to 10% in the previous year, on a strong year for the album in the top markets, notably Adele’s 21 album.
Globally, the CD remains the recorded music industry’s leading sales format – accounting for the majority of retail sales in 2011. Despite brisk retail sales of download to own (DTO) tracks and albums, and encouraging sales of subscriptions in 2011, sales of mobile formats (ringtones, ringbacks, tracks) have been in decline since the peak in 2008. This gives urgency to the industry’s successful transition to digital music purchase in their top markets.
Much of the consumption of recorded music is free-to-the user, whether licensed, already purchased or pirated. Live streaming is the top music behaviour, shifting from the computer to the handset via adoption of smartphones and the free apps offered on the iTunes and Google Play storefronts, amongst others. Pandora is the emblematic supplier of ‘smart radio’, and dominates this segment in the US. Smartphone adoption is also driving subscriptions to the premium mobile tier of Spotify, Rhapsody and similar services.
The centre of digital music purchase remains the download-to-own (DTO) track or album, which we estimate accounted for $4.8 billion of retail sales in 2011, roughly 10 times the level of subscription revenues. Apple has built an unassailable lead on the DTO segment, leveraging the ecosystem created for its devices.
It is well known that piracy drains the creative industries of retail sales, although the precise interaction between piracy and foregone sales is difficult to pin down. Anti-piracy regimes are being established to combat digital piracy of cultural goods, including music, but effective implementation is slow.
Our forecasts for recorded music sales do not factor in any uplift to retail sales from successful anti-piracy action. We expect retail sales of digital formats to surpass the CD by 2015, more or less stabilising the market’s topline revenues. However, sales of around $16.5 billion by that time would be just a fraction of their 2005 level of $30 billion.