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Streaming Is Growing in Japan, But Slumping CD Sales Drag Overall Revenues Down

Digital music sales in Japan rose 11% in 2020, as the world's second-largest market posted a seventh straight year of digital gains amid sliding physical sales.

TOKYO — Digital music sales in Japan rose 11% in 2020, as the world’s second-largest market posted its seventh straight year of digital gains amid sliding physical sales, according to data released this week by the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ).

Fueled by a 25% uptick in streaming audio revenues, to 50.7 billion yen ($465.9 million), overall digital sales climbed to 78.3 billion yen ($719.2 million) in wholesale value.


By contrast, physical music sales, largely CDs, fell 15% in wholesale-value terms to 129.9 billion yen ($1.2 billion). In unit terms, physical dropped 21% to 105.7 million. Japan is the world’s biggest consumer of physical music products.

Japan’s overall revenue for digital and physical sales dipped by 9%, or 27.1 billion yen ($262.5 million), to 272.6 billion yen ($2.64 billion).

Industry observers attributed the results to more people staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic — and not visiting CD stores — even though Japan has not experienced lockdowns as restrictive as those seen in many other countries. The growing acceptance by music fans of streaming services such as Spotify and LINE Music is another factor.

“Physical sales declined hard during the state of emergency (in April-May 2020), but recovered from July,” says Takayuki Suzuki, president of Tokyo-based music consulting company ParadeAll. “Streaming continued to grow throughout the year.”


Last year’s emergency declaration reduced the number of customers at Tower Records stores in Tokyo and other metropolitan areas, says Tatsuro Yagawa, a spokesperson at Tower Records Japan. “It forced us to refrain from in-store events or reduce the scale of events,” he says. But he notes that Tower’s online sales of physical product rose more than 30% year-on-year.

The RIAJ results mean that Japan is likely to see another decline in overall music revenues in 2020 when the IFPI releases full global revenue results on March 23. Physical product still accounts for 62% of recorded-music sales in Japan by wholesale value and remains the largest revenue source in Asia because Japan is the region’s largest market. A 4.8% drop-off in Japan’s physical sales in 2019 drove down overall recorded music sales in the market by 0.9% to $2.9 billion. That, in turn, dragged down growth in Asia to only 3.4%, which was slower than the global rate of 8.2%, according to IFPI figures.

“The relationship between digital music and physical in Japan will change slowly,” says Yagawa. “In Japan, we do not think that physical sales will drop [all] at once like in the United States.”

The RIAJ figures also showed sales of streaming music videos rose 47% to 1.9 billion yen ($17.7 million), while sales of single-track music downloads dropped 21% to 11 billion yen ($101 million) in wholesale value.

Sales of vinyl, which had been rising over the past decade — although more slowly in the past couple of years — dipped 1% in wholesale value terms to 2.1 billion yen ($19.5 million), dropping 10% in unit terms to 1.1 million.

The RIAJ says the five top-selling streaming singles in 2020 were “I Love…” by Official Hige Dandism (Pony Canyon), “Hadaka no Kokoro” (Naked Heart) by Aimyon (Warner Music Japan), “Make You Happy” by NiziU (Sony Music Labels), “Dynamite” by BTS (Universal Music) and “Homura” (Flame) by LiSA, the theme song of the megahit anime feature Demon Slayer. Each was streamed more than 100 million times to achieve RIAJ “platinum” status. “Dynamite” was the only non-Japanese single in the top five.