Ed Sheeran's New Spotify Record, in Perspective

In its first week of release, Ed Sheeran's "x" generated 6.25 million streams in the U.K. at Spotify -- a new record for the streaming service -- and over 6 million streams in the U.S. The album also set a Spotify record for global streams in a week with 23.8 million, beating the 22.8 million streams of Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" in November.

These numbers might seem huge at first blush. After all, one million of anything is a big number. But large numbers are exactly what you should expect in today's streaming marketplace. Today's music business is increasingly characterized by access-based business models that track how many times songs are played.

To put it in perspective, Nielsen tracks around 3 billion individual streams in a given week at a group of services such as Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody, Slacker and YouTube. That's a run rate of 156 billion streams -- and that doesn't include Pandora!

Streaming has the kind of big numbers typically at AM/FM radio. In the U.S., a popular song will have a radio audience in the tens of millions in a given week. A country #1 will reach a weekly audience of 40 million to 50 million -- just at country radio. The audience number takes into account how many times a song was played and how many people listened to each performance. Streaming is similar in that hundreds of thousands or millions of people can stream a particular song multiple times in a given week.

The small numbers can be found in purchases. There were 4.3 million album purchases in the U.S. last week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "x" sold 210,000 of those 4.3 million units. If current trends hold for the rest of the year, there will be about 250 million album sales in the U.S. this year.

The only big number owned by music purchases is revenue. Purchases accounted for about $3.8 billion in trade revenue in 2013. Streaming -- webcasting and on-demand subscription services -- accounted for about $925 million.


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