The reality is a little more complex with IFPI’s "Digital Music Report” (subtitled “Charting the Path to Sustainable Growth”) offering detailed insight into an industry that is still very much in transition.
On the one hand, global digital revenues grew 6.9 percent to $6.85 billion in 2014, with revenues generated by subscription services alone climbing by 39 percent year-on-year, to total $1.57 billion. That growth was, however, offset by an 8.1 percent drop in physical sales and an 8 percent fall in download sales, both of which generate higher per unit revenues for rights holders. For the first time, digital and physical accounted for the same proportion of industry revenues, with both equaling 46 percent.
Downloads still account for the bulk of global digital sales (52 percent), but revenues from subscription services now make up 23 percent of digital revenues globally, up from 18 percent in 2013. The number of paying subscribers is currently estimated at 41 million, up from 28 million the previous year and eight million when data was first compiled in 2010.
In 37 markets (including South Korea, Sweden and Mexico) streaming revenues have overtaken download income, while combined ad-supported and subscription streaming revenues now account for 32 percent of global digital revenues, up from 25 percent in 2013.
Performance rights income also increased by 8.3 percent last year to total $948 million, and now accounts for 6 percent of total industry revenues, according to IFPI.
Synchronization revenues additionally grew by 8.4 percent in 2014 to total $350 million, with France (+46.6 percent), Germany (+30.4 [percent) and Japan (+33.5 percent) all experiencing significant progress in the sector.
The U.S., the world’s biggest music market, saw overall revenues increase by 2.1 percent in 2014 to total $4.9 billion, with digital topping $3.5 billion and now accounting for 71 percent of the country's recorded music market.
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A contributing factor in that growth is, however, a change in IFPI’s reporting methodology. This year’s report is the first to count revenues collected by SoundExchange ($773.4 million in 2014, according to IFPI) as digital sales rather than performance rights income.
Overall subscription income in the U.S. grew 33.5 percent year-on-year to total $490 million, while ad-supported streaming revenues climbed 21.4 percent to $220 million. That was countered by a 7.2 percent drop in download revenues, which still account for 55 percent of the U.S. digital market, or $1.9 billion.
“The underlying theme here is that there is no status quo,” added Stu Bergen, Warner Recorded Music president, international, speaking at the report's unveiling in London. “As an industry we exist in a state of perpetual innovation. We are not just adapting to change we are embracing it and making it happen,” he added citing recent Warner deals with video platforms Interlude, Vessel and Snapchat’s “Discover” platform. “This convergence of promotional and commercial platforms has helped lubricate the gears of artist development. They can start anywhere and succeed anywhere,” Bergen went on to say.
Meanwhile, IFPI CEO Frances Moore spoke out about what she termed the “value gap” that currently exists between the profits that digital platforms such as YouTube and DailyMotion generate from music content and the relatively minor revenues that they pay back to rights holders and record companies.
“There is a flaw in the legislative environment that needs to be addressed,” said Moore, citing the safe harbor provisions that enable YouTube and DailyMotion to be recognized as neutral hosting services, exempt from certain aspects of copyright law.
“We believe that the safe harbors that exist are being abused by companies that claim that although they are monetizing, distributing and promoting they are claiming to be mere intermediaries and we think that has to be clarified,” Moore went on to say.
The report’s regional breakdown presents a similarly mixed picture.
Other markets which experienced growth in 2014 included the world’s third-largest music market, Germany (+1.9 percent), alongside Brazil (+2.4), South Korea (+19.2 percent), Spain (+15.2 percent), China (+5.6 percent), Czech Republic (+4.6 percent), Indonesia (+16.3 percent)
Markets that saw recorded music revenues report year-on-year declines include Japan (-5.5 percent), Canada (-11.3 percent), France (-3.4 percent), India (-10.1 percent) and the United Kingdom (-2.8 percent). Europe as a whole saw music revenues fall 0.2 percent. Asia’s music industry also retracted by 3.6 percent, while Latin America grew 7.3 percent.
“We are at a tipping point for the industry with digital being for the first time ever in a par with physical,” said Edgar Berger, Sony Music Entertainment chairman & CEO, international, during the event. “If we keep the current trajectory, the industry will inevitably grow and there is no doubt that paid subscription will be the predominant format in the market that consumers will gravitate towards.”
Berger continued: “The music industry is managing three transitions at the same time: from physical to digital; PC to mobile and download to streaming. In that context I think the industry is performing remarkably well and with a paid subscription model we are building a business that is here to stay.”