Music Hit 1 Trillion Streams in 2019, Sales Plummet - Rolling Stone
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Music Hit 1 Trillion Streams in 2019, But Growth Is Slowing

While streaming reached new highs, sales reached new lows.

Rolling Stone, Year End, Spotify. Apple Music

image in illustration SimplyAdrienne/Shutterstock

Just how big is music streaming? The format continued on its path toward total dominance in 2019, and kept up its years-long resuscitation of the music U.S. music industry. For the first time ever, on-demand streams in the U.S. reached over 1 trillion, according to a year-end report from Alpha Data, the data analytics platform formerly known as BuzzAngle that powers the Rolling Stone Charts.

Streaming’s growth drove overall album consumption up with it, up 13.5 percent year-on-year to 795.9 million album units. Overall song consumption, meanwhile, was up 21.1 percent to 7 billion units in 2019.

But it wasn’t all good news: CD sales and digital downloads tanked, and streaming’s growth — along with vinyl’s — is decelerating.

Source: Alpha Data/Rolling Stone Charts

As album and song sales dwindled, streaming did more heavy-lifting than it ever had before. Streams accounted for 84.6 percent of total album consumption in the U.S., its biggest portion to date. Album sales drove 11.7 percent of consumption — down from 17 percent last year — while song sales dropped from 7 percent to just under 4 percent.

Album units combine digital and physical album sales, digital song sales, and audio streams, using a custom weighting system. Song units combine digital sales and song streams. (Units were introduced in 2015 as a new way to measure consumption in the U.S. in the streaming era.)

Streaming Reaches New Heights, But Growth Is Slowing 

Back in 2016, music streaming reached a tipping point of sorts when streams swelled to 432 billion and streaming became the primary source of music consumption in the U.S., according to Alpha Data.

That upward trend soldiered on in 2019. On-demand streams grew were up 24.8 percent from 2018 to 1.01 trillion. Streaming on services like Spotify and Apple Music saw the biggest boot, as on demand audio streams grew 32 percent to 706 billion. Video streams, meanwhile, were up 10.6 percent to 304 billion.

But that growth is starting to slow. Growth in on-demand streams was down nearly 30 percent from 2018, when streams saw 42 percent spike. Video streams saw a more drastic deceleration, growing 10.6 percent in 2019 compared to 24.3 percent in 2018, while growth in on-demand audio streams was down about 24 percent.

In turn, growth in streaming revenue has slowed, too: In the first nine months of 2019, Universal saw a significant deceleration in revenue growth from streams.  Many have wondered whether Netflix had already hit market saturation when the streaming service reported its first loss of subscribers in eight years. If growth keeps decelerating at this rate, music streaming’s own market saturation may be approaching.

Sales Plummet, But Vinyl Continues Double-Digit Growth

While streaming reached new highs, sales reached a dour new low. In 2019, album sales dropped below 100 million for the first time in Alpha Data’s history. 2019’s 93 million total album sales reflects a 23 percent decrease from 2018.

Digital downloads took the biggest hit, with song sales sinking 26.3 percent to 295.1 million. Only one song had more than 1 million song sales in 2019: Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” which was also the biggest song of the year. Digital album sales, similarly, were down 26.6 percent.

Source: Alpha Data/Rolling Stone Charts

On the whole, physical albums didn’t fare much better, falling 20.9 percent year-on-year to 55.7 million. Taylor Swift’s Lover was the top album by physical sales and the only album to surpass 1 million sales, according to Alpha Data. But to call these pure album sales would be a stretch. Lover’s sales were massively boosted by bundles, with CDs, vinyls and digital downloads offered as add-ons to T-shirts and sweatshirts. And amid plunging sales, bundling was more rampant in 2019 than ever. Most of the top-selling albums — like Harry Styles’ Fine Line and BTS’ Map of the Soul: Persona — were offered as bundles.

TOP ALBUMS BY SALES 

  1. Lover, Taylor Swift – 1.1 million
  2. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, Billie Eilish – 595,000
  3. Happiness Begins, Jonas Brothers – 484,000
  4. Fine Line, Harry Styles – 453,000
  5. A Star Is Born: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper – 438,000
  6. BTS Map of the Soul: Persona, BTS – 382,000
  7. Hollywood’s Bleeding, Post Malone – 357,000
  8. Fear Inoculum, Tool – 344,000
  9. DNA, Backstreet Boys – 314,000
  10. thank u, next, Ariana Grande – 268,000

Bundles weren’t enough to prevent the tumble of CD and cassette sales, which fell 26 percent and 11.5 percent, respectively.

The only thing people did seem to pay for was vinyl, with LP sales seeing another year of double-digit growth — up 10.5 percent to 10.7 million. LP sales swelled to 19.2 percent of all physical sales, which according to Alpha Data is its biggest leap in five years. While there is certainly a nostalgia factor at play in the vinyl revival — it’s probably no coincidence its comeback coincided with the Polaroid camera’s — there were also many new releases that were among the top-selling LPs of 2019. Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was Number One, and also saw over 2.3 billion on-demand audio streams in 2019.

TOP ALBUMS BY SALES – VINYL

  1. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, Billie Eilish 112,798 copies
  2. Abbey Road, The Beatles  101,024 copies
  3. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen 78,600 copies
  4. Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1, Various Artists  69,924 copies
  5. Lover, Taylor Swift 66,702 copies
  6. The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd 64,018 copies
  7. Legend, Bob Marley & the Wailers 62,325 copies
  8. Thriller, Michael Jackson 59,553 copies
  9. Ultimate Sinatra, Frank Sinatra  52,104 copies
  10. Back to Black, Amy Winehouse 49,231 copies

But, like streams, vinyl sales have also seen been decelerating. Back in 2015, vinyl sales spiked 53 percent, according to Alpha Data, and slowed to less than half that rate in 2016. If this deceleration continues, 2019 may mark the the format’s last year of double-digit growth.

Or perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now, the music industry can toast to another year of growth.

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