Digital music sales decline for the first time since the dawn of the iTunes Store

The past 12 months has seen the first decline in digital music sales, since the iTunes Store was launched back in 2003. Digital track sales took the biggest hit, but a decline in album sales was a little more surprising reports Billboard:

Overall for the full year 2013, digital track sales fell 5.7% from 1.34 billion units to 1.26 billion units while digital album sales fell 0.1% to 117.6 million units from the previous year’s total of 117.7 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

As streaming music services continue to grow – including Apple's own iTunes Radio – it was perhaps inevitable that we'd begin to see such a change at some point. Numbers for streaming services aren't so easy to find, but with the likes of Spotify, Pandora, Rdio and Google to name but a few getting in on the action, there are some heavy hitters giving you access to more music for less money.

What about you though; did you shift to streaming from purchasing during 2013? Which service do you prefer?

Source: Billboard

Richard Devine

Senior Editor at iMore, part time racing driver, full time British guy

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There are 28 comments. Add yours.

Divegeek says:

I subscribe up both Pandora and Google play music. But I think the real problem is that when the only new music coming out is from the likes of Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and one direction people are giving up on the music industry

justinbristoe says:

agreed! im glad im not the only person to understand its more about the quality than anything else.

Metro1088 says:

Spotify finally got released in my country in the beginning of December 2013. I gave it a try and a few hours later I told myself I wouldn't go back to downloading music over iTunes. Streaming and offline mode are the future for me.

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WPSteve says:

I subscribe to Xbox Music (am I the only one?) being a gamer and naturally being on my console more often than not. The iOS app is nice, but if only they would add downloads for offline playback... I'd never buy a song again.

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G.4 says:

Yes I pay for Spotify premium, $10 per month and I haven't looked back since. Love it! Playlists, entire discography of my favorite artists, access to new albums the day they are released what's not to love??

EPJS says:

Pandora, iTunes Radio, and the free version of Spotify. The only time I buy music is when it's from someone I really like, most new music these days are crap.

Dark_Blu says:

As a musician, I've always sold music via online music stores. Instead of investing in CD production, I put that money into marketing and promotion. That works for me.

Becjr says:

I've used iTunes Radio a little bit, but I guess I've programmed myself to prefer having copies of the music I my library to choose what I listen to without interruption.
More importantly, I buy the music to support the artists/bands I like to listen to so they can continue to make great music.

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iSRS says:

Spotify Free, iTunes Radio, and the occasional iTunes purchase. To be honest, the biggest reason for my decline in purchases is the quality of content being released. Sadly, the recording industry will never admit that is a reason.

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Oystein Roysi says:

I use a Nordic streaming service which has lossless streaming so I get good sound, and I've just started using Spotify free for colaborative playlists and such. In my opinion there is still good music being released, but it's only the "crap" that's promoted. If you're willing to dig a bit, you can still find great stuff.
I can't remember when I last bought a CD, but I sometimes bhigh-res music online from Linn Records and similar.

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emjayess says:

Don't ever see myself ceasing to buy music--gotta have the tracks on my iPhone or iPod when I don't have wi-fi such as when I'm traveling (especially in the wilderness when I have to have albums such as "Dark Side of the Moon," among others).

dontenucci says:

Spotify all day everyday from my iPhone

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GlennRuss says:

I am surprised the numbers are not smaller for buying music. With all the choices you have for listening to music, you are not inclined to buy. As stated, there is also the lack of new good music released.

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wbeem says:

My purchases didn't decline last year because I was streaming (I wasn't). My purchases declined because the quality of music out there really sucks! Music was better when it was performed by musicians, not "artists."

Rickygomac says:

I subscribe to iTunes Match, I don't subscribe to anything else (digital music wise) but I do listen to iTunes Radio, Spotify and even Sony Music Unlimited as a way to preview an album that I find on iTunes before I buy. Back then, Apple have us 30 second previews of music, which wasn't that much listening time to judge wether or not we liked what we were listening too. And more often then not, it was still a purchase on faith, the only thing it was good for was for saying "yes! This is the song!" Now that we have 1:30 previews, thankfully it's a longer listen and we can get into it longer, but if it was a song that was 4+ minutes long, it usually gave us (in electronic music case) just the buildup of songs, or instrumental sections. The advent of iTunes Radio has exposed me to a broader range of songs, and since they've introduced the "First Play" album streaming, things have changed. I was so excited to hear that Britney Spears was releasing a new album, and I was gladly going to drop some money, but thank goodness that ITunes Radio First play streamed it and It was horrible.

I am purchasing more music, as well as listening to more music but I am more cautious with what I am spending my music on on the iTunes Store. If iTunes was to release a subscription service (they've got so many products, a massive ecosystem and iTunes is so huge, at this point, why not do it) then I would definitely drop cash on that! This should also force the music industry to push good music!

I'm not going to lie, but since The early fall/ late summer, I go into iTunes and all I see on the main page are hundreds of albums I can PREORDER (I am not wanting to preorder anyway), NOW ____ , KIDS BOP, BANGERZ, PRISM, MARSHAL MATHERS EP2, ONE DIRECTION and some strange electronic album. This has been the main page for some time, it's trying to push me to complete my albums, show me stuff I already own, and singles about stuff I don't even want for free.

So iTunes's algorithm needs to get smarter with its users, and REINTRODUCE personalization back into the store, and show me more Variety, at this point I have all the music I want, iTunes better convince me to buy more because as soon as I log on, I draw a blank.

The music consumer is so saturated with what they are exposed with, chances are they already own or have ease of access to what they like. We won't be buying if we aren't discovering. That's what I think it comes down too. Spotify and Pandora are very good at showing me new stuff. iTunes...not so much. So if iTunes wants my money, they need to switch their "Genius" from my personal library, and plop it into the Store.

Galley says:

You'll have to pry my CDs out of my cold, dead hands!

Derrick4Real says:

I'm not a streamer because i have a large collection built over my lifetime and what's most important to me is i can hear what i want when i want. I'm not a user of shuffle or a person that just listens to the randomness of radio.

I don't buy music because honestly, most the music i hear about is crap. I listen or listened to a lot of hip-hop, an artform that in the past never lived or died on radio play. As Ice cube said "Turn off the radio." Regardless most artists now are utter crap, with nothing to say and no lyrical ability, sanitized for the suburban dance music audience. also if you dig deep enough there's free stuff all over mixtape sites like datpiff and djbooth. But aside from a few recent underground gems that hold me over i don't buy music cause it's not good. And that's the same across the many other genres i listen to. In R&B singers used to have to be able to sing and the exception was the artists that couldn't sing. Now singers are rare and nonsingers like are the norm. So i stick with my collection. It's large enough and i'll always have Prince albums i haven't listened to enough and a new one on the way. lol. And much of my time is dominated by audiobooks and podcasts. So i spend less time actually listening to music.

asuperstarr says:

With all the streaming apps and music subscriptions services this is not a surprise.

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The Jimmy James says:

If the dance-drenched pop of now is like the disco of the 1970s, when do we get the "80s music?" The pendulum needs to swing away from dancey music to shut yourself into a pair of JBL cans and sip a glass of scotch while listening to The Outfield or Peter Gabriel.

There we go, why don't we just bring everyone back and start over,pretending that it's Endless "Nineteen Eighty Ten?"

tmy360 says:

I subscribe to Spotify. Best $10 a month I spend. I haven't bought a CD for a couple years now. Love love love!!

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jlb21 says:

My habits haven't changed. I like to use services like iTunes Radio, but I like purchasing what I want to have.....

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ken_mastro says:

I've actually purchased more albums this year but purchased from HDTracks. Apple's decision to only offer compressed formats really degrades the quality of the music.

AppleZilla says:

I dumped much of our CD collection into iTunes Match (25,000 isn't enough, Apple). Between that, iTunes Radio and Spotify (not to mention tens of thousands of Internet radio stations), we have definitely been buying less.

Iocane Powder says:

I feel your pain with iTunes Match. The 25K limit has stopped my iTunes Radio from working. It thinks I have no iTunes Match account, I assume because I get a Match error every time I start iTunes, so I get the ads. If the iTunes Match limit is not fixed this next year then no more subscription for me. It just breaks all your devices as far as music distribution.

As for buying less, I think I buy about the same amount. If I find something on a radio station I like I will purchase it as I usually can only take the radio is small doses because if the endless stream of junk.

Obsidian71 says:

It's simple

For a ten spot you can listen to more music than you have time for. Or your can buy 7 songs (scratches head). They have turned people into consumers not collectors. The artists are going to struggle.

Mayadangelou says:

I don't stream never have and won't. I like the physical CD in my library (over 2500 and counting). I find the streaming takes something away from the sound.

cgs101 says:

I like to stream nowadays but mainly to check whether I really like a song before I purchase it. You see I still think the problem lies in how expensive a single track is. The majority of the songs on iTunes UK is £0.99 which is just crazy!

The outcome of all of this is that I almost never purchase a whole album now as it's so rare to like 100% of the songs on it.

Gary Dauphin says:

Sales down <> lost revenue! I am listening to even more streaming music now that iTunes Radio is out (boy, have I got thoughts about that product!), but in reality, I am paying for those songs via ad revenue. And, I have discovered quite a few new tracks that I ended up buying for my collection, which I haven't done in a while. So, yes, sales might be down, but if you add up the total of sales + ad revenue, I don't think that it is as bad as some might assume.