Thank streaming: Global music sales jump 8.1 percent

2017 was the third consecutive year of music sales growth after 15 years of decline, as the world's total music subscribers surged by more than half.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
2 min read

Spotify is the world's biggest streaming music service by users. 


Thanks to streaming, the global music industry is thriving. 

Revenues grew 8.1 percent last year to $17.3 billion, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, or IFPI, said Tuesday. It was the third consecutive year of growth following 15 years of decline and was driven by a 41.1 percent leap in revenue from streaming, according to the recording industry's worldwide trade group. 

It was also the highest rate of growth since 1919, almost a century ago when popular movies were still silent. 

For the first time, streaming was the single largest revenue source for music globally, at a 38 percent share. Paid subscriptions -- the source of most of the revenue growth  -- jumped by 64 million new members, hitting 176 million total at the end of 2017, an increase of more than half. 

Meanwhile, digital downloads, typified by Apple's iTunes store, dropped 20.5 percent.

Watch this: Spotify saved the music biz, but can Spotify save itself? (The 3:59, Ep. 379)

Overall, the recorded music industry is still off its peak, which came during the heyday of the CD. Total industry revenues for 2017 were 68.4 percent of the high-water mark in 1999. 

The data emphasize the meteoric popularity of music streaming, which has overtaken digital downloads as the music industry's main business model in just a few years. It has also led to a larger cultural shift in consumers' relationship with their music -- rather than buying music outright, as we did in the era of CDs and digital downloads, we're increasingly paying monthly fees for all-you-can-access tunes on services like Spotify or Apple Music, or listening free by sitting through advertising on sites like YouTube.

At first, that shift triggered backlash among some labels and artists, but the recording industry's resistance has morphed into an embrace of the format as it fueled the best music sales in a decade.

The news comes ahead of a Spotify news event Tuesday, when the company is expected to reveal a update to its free mobile-listening options. 

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