The CD Is Dead. Long Live Streaming!

In the world of technology, evolution is unstoppable. One discovery leads to another, one new approach to things or a new concept leads to the discovery of others, and all this pushes innovation forward. This is painfully obvious in the case of music (and the technology used to make, record, and distribute it). Edison’s phonograph led to the creation of records, then – after a few stops along the way involving magnetic tapes – to the creation of the first CD. Later, the music went digital – the compressed audio formats that emerged put hours upon hours of music on a writable data CD, then on a USB drive, a memory card, and the internal storage of our smartphones. Not too long ago, music streaming services arrived, making use of the ever-increasing speed of our internet connections, slowly rendering “traditional” recording formats obsolete. This is where the music industry stands today.

The numbers

According to Nielsen Music, cited by Billboard, Americans have a real taste for music streaming: the market research company registered more than 505 billion on-demand music streams in the US this year alone. The half-a-trillion mark was reached two months faster than last year, and the number of streams has grown significantly, by almost a quarter, compared to the same time period in 2018. This should not come as a surprise to anyone, considering how connected our lives are today. Aside from the computers we keep on our desks (or in our backpacks), we also carry around smartphones and smartwatches, and in the evening, we sit down in front of our smart, connected TVs that are also capable of streaming music and movies from the internet. More artists than ever now have a platform to share their work online than ever before, and it’s easier even for independent artists to make money with music thanks to the revenue sharing programs of various online services (like YouTube, for example).

Out with the old(ish)

Streaming music from the internet is very convenient and affordable – often free, with an occasional interruption by an advertising clip – so its popularity shouldn’t surprise anyone. And neither should the strong decline of the compact disk. The sales of CDs topped in 2000, reaching almost 950 million units but have been declining ever since. Last year, revenue from CD sales has dropped under $1 billion in the US for the first time since 1986. And CD sales are expected to continue to drop in the coming years. But CD sales are not the only ones affected by the rise of streaming – music downloads are also declining fast. According to an RIAA report published this spring, music downloads (from marketplaces like Apple’s iTunes) have dropped by almost 30% in 2018 compared to the previous year. It seems that people no longer care about actually owning a copy of their favorite songs – they are perfectly content with streaming it from the cloud whenever they feel like listening to it (and only download it when it’s absolutely necessary).