Had Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield looked at the RIAA's latest industry numbers, they may have written the song "Breaking Even Is Hard to Do."
U.S. recorded-music revenue dipped 0.9% in 2012 after rising a slight 0.3% a year earlier, according to RIAA year-end data. Total recorded-music revenue was $7.07 billion in 2012, down from $7.13 billion in 2011.
The most compelling storyline from the report was the growth of "access" models, or those services that allow consumers to access music rather than purchase it. After hitting a plateau of around $200 million per year from 2006 through 2010, both streaming and subscription services leapt to $359 million in 2011 and $571 million in 2012. (Part of the increase is due to the inclusion of ad-supported streaming revenue in 2011, but 2011 was also the year Spotify and Muve Music launched in the United States.) Digital services paid through SoundExchange, such as Pandora and satellite broadcaster SiriusXM, were up 58% to $462 million.
The good news: Years of double-digit losses (revenue was down more than 10% each year from 2008 to 2010) are a thing of the past. New business models contribute hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue each year. As long as the CD doesn't fall off the proverbial cliff--it's unlikely because the format's decline has been remarkably linear during the last nine years-new revenue from digital business models can cover the physical losses.
The bad news: Given recent trends, breaking even in 2013 will be hard to do. Let's assume CD and vinyl revenues repeat their 2012 performances of -18% and 35%, respectively, and digital sales stay on their current pace (tracks down 2%, albums up 10%). That puts a lot of pressure on access services. SoundExchange would need to increase by $150 million to $662 million, which would be impressive after the $170 million gain in 2012. Ad-supported streaming and subscription revenue would need to rise $280 million to $851 million. That's far greater than last year's $212 million increase. Assuming music synchronization revenue stays flat and mobile (ringtone) revenue has another steep drop, these changes would result in no change in revenue in 2013.
By my estimates the revenue story could get really interesting in 2014, but it depends on access-model revenue. Mobile and music DVD revenue will be nearly gone. CD revenue declines should be modest because the size of the entire CD market will be small ($1.3 billion in 2015 if annual losses are 20%). If streaming models see very strong growth--from $1 billion in 2012 to $2.3 billion in 2015--total revenue will climb 0.8% to $7.1 billion in 2014 and rise 0.8% to nearly $7.2 billion in 2015. Those scenarios could turn out differently, but they are plausible scenarios.