Nielsen, an American global information and measurement company, has reported that download sales in the US have fallen by 42 per cent and with the rate they’re falling, could be a thing of the past by 2020.

Nielsen’s figures are for single-track download sales and confirm that purchases of songs have fallen 24 per cent, or 127.3 million, in the first half of 2016 (year-on-year).

Figures also show how much track downloads have plummeted since their peak in 2012. US download sales in the first half of 2016 were 404.3 million, compared to the 2012 peak of 698 million sales.

Music Business Worldwide spells it out pretty clearly: “If single-track sales continue to fall at this rate, purchases from download stores such as iTunes would be non-existent by 2020.”

With US track sales typically costing $1.29, the drop in downloads since 2012 represents a loss of $300m a year. Since iTunes is one of the biggest music download sites, the fall in revenue is likely to have a big effect on Apple's iTunes business. No wonder that it's sniffing around Tidal with a view to expanding its Apple Music streaming service.

The findings are yet more evidence to show that music streaming is growing at a rapid rate, up 97.4 per cent in the US year-on-year. Nielsen says the total number of audio streams in the US in the first half of 2016 was 113.6bn, or 431,000 streams a minute. 

More after the break

Digital album sales aren’t safe either: sales of those fell 18.4 per cent, or 9.9 million units in the US over the past year. “If [digital album] sales continue to fall at 9.9 million units a year, they would be in single figures by 2020 and vanish by 2021,” says MBW.

Source: Music Business Worldwide


Graham Luke's picture

Call me ol' fashioned but...

I hope this never transpires.

I am not interested in 'streaming' music at present as I like to own my music and have it on all my devices.

On a long haul flight from Australia to Blighty, my ipod and in-ears keeps me sane...that and a big comfortable seat and fizz whenever I want it. How would 'streaming' work at 30,000 feet...?

Jota180's picture


Streaming internet radio station Radio Paradise (it's free but they accept donations) allows you to download up to 12 hours worth of music via their app for offline play. Spotify premium lets you offline 3000 songs of your choice.  I'm sure the other do the same.

You do realise a number of airlines offer wifi in their planes.  The list is ever increasing.

Graham Luke's picture

Thank you...

I was not aware of that. The issue for me is one of provenance.

If I rip an album into iTunes, I have selected the ALAC codec, I know the album; it is often a fovourite recording, I have complete control over the process. Similarly, I buy classical music from online vendors on the strength of the specific recording and in the format of my choice, having researched reviews etc.

I have also found that streaming services are NOT able to access all the works of some of the more 'niche' jazz trios. Yes, they may have a couple of the better known albums but will draw a blank when pressed further.

And, hey, aren't I supporting the artist more financially by buying downloads instead of streaming? I am more than happy to do so even if my outlay is substantially greater in the long run.


Jota180's picture


A percentage of streamings revenues goes to the bands.  As for digital downloads coming to an end, I'm not so sure about that.  A lot of people buy less music and pay for streaming services so that will impact CD/album and digital download sales somewhat but I can't see digital downloads stopping altogether as it's the cheapest way for bands to sell music. 

There is no manufacturing, production or distribution costs as there are with physical media also you don't have a middle man shop taking over half the price as their cut. If anything I can see CD's becoming a thing of the past as people just buy and download the music they want.  You don't need a worldwide series of shop fronts if you only offer digital downloads, you only need one website.

idp_1's picture

When will they ever learn!

Same old story. Pricing themselves out of business due to their greed.

hifiman2008's picture

As long as you pay £10 per

As long as you pay £10 per month u basically own your music. U can download thousands of tracks for offline listening while having no signal. It is the future like it or not.

GeoffHemingway's picture

I think...

...the world has finally woken up to the fact they are paying through the nose for an inferior product that is limited in it's functionality too. Yes, you can stream it your online devices and save it to your phone/tablet/laptop/NAS or whatever, but it's still a highly compressed piece of rubbish! Hi-Res has to be the future but it also has to come down in price as it's way too expensive at the moment. Otherwise I can see a resurgence in the market for CD and don't you wonder why people are turning back to vinyl? Yes it's more expensive and not at all convenient but sales are booming for LP's and turntables.

As the old saying goes - 'quality will out'!

Jota180's picture

Not all music downloads are

Not all music downloads are compressed.  You can buy FLAC which is lossless.  High rez is a waste of space (and time) in my opinion.  The file size compared to CD quality FLAC is like 4 or 5 times the size.