New data shows that the amount of digital downloads sold by iTunes and other online music sources fell significantly last year, and digital music sales revenue has now been overtaken by that from streaming. Another reason for the sales decline may be a huge increase in the practice of stream ripping, as half of young millennials have used that method to download music.
The latest figures released by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) show that digital download sales of individual tracks declined by a whopping 22 percent in the first half of 2016 as compared with the same period in the prior year, with digital downloads of albums falling by 15 percent. Combined revenue for singles and albums from digital downloads dropped by 17 percent in total.
Meanwhile, music streaming's popularity surged, with revenue from the practice up by 57 percent over the same period in 2015 and now accounting for a significantly greater portion of overall music industry revenue than that of digital and physical sales. Sales of vinyl, which had been experiencing gains in a resurgence for the format in the past several years, also declined by 9.1 percent.
The amount of paid subscriptions to music streaming services doubled over the same period last year, from 9.1 to 18.3 million. According to the RIAA, "These first half 2016 results illustrate the emergence of paid subscriptions as a primary revenue driver for the United States music industry. For the first time, paid subscriptions were virtually on-par with paid downloads as the biggest single format revenue source. Streaming became the overall largest revenue contributor by a wide margin."
While streaming most certainly accounts for some of the lost interest in digital downloads, it is not the only culprit. We recently reported that a full half of young millennials aged 16 to 24 had engaged in the process of stream ripping, that is, downloading music via a program or website that converts a YouTube, SoundCloud or similarly-sourced musical track into an mp3 that can be downloaded and kept permanently on a user's hard drive. The use of the method by that age group surged by 41 percent in the past year.
With a full half of millennials having stream ripped at least one song, it stands to reason that if they had incentive to create a downloadable version of a song or songs so they could store and own them indefinitely, as opposed to streaming them on demand, there indeed are many young people who value the permanent ownership of music in their library as opposed to the streaming alternative. Those same young listeners may not be willing to actually pay for that privilege, however, which could indeed account in large part for the aforementioned drop in paid digital downloads. It could also explain why individual track sales have plunged more than those of albums, which can only be stream ripped track by track.