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Apple's iTunes dominates the music downloading world

Spotify, Rdio, Pandora... pshaw. Despite people streaming music at a growing rate, digital-music downloading isn't going anywhere.

Apple's iTunes Store.
Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

In this new era of music streaming, many people seem to wonder whether song and album downloading is becoming irrelevant. Apparently, not quite yet.

Music downloading is as strong as ever, according to a new NPD study based on data from 5,400 consumer surveys. In fact, streaming only seems to bolster downloads.

Though streaming services, like Spotify, Pandora, and Rdio, have grown at an extraordinary rate, music fans still want to own albums. According to NPD, 44 million U.S. residents paid for the download of at least one song track or album last year. And this number has stayed basically the same for the past three years. In fact, 2012 saw a 6 percent increase in paid-for downloads.

"There's a belief that consumers don't need to buy music because of streaming options," Russ Crupnick, NPD's senior vice president of industry analysis, said in a statement, "when in fact streamers are much more likely than the average consumer to buy music downloads."

One third of the people surveyed by NPD said that owning music is important and 30 percent said listening to an entire album is essential. Of those consumers that claimed to be oft-streamers, many said they downloaded more albums because they discovered new music via streaming.

Several other companies have come on the downloading scene, but Apple is still the behemoth of the music download world. Nearly 10 years ago, the tech giant launched its iTunes Store, and it's still dominating digital music downloads.

Apple claimed 63 percent of the paid music download market in the fourth quarter of 2012, with 8 out of 10 buyers going to iTunes for their downloads, according to NPD. Amazon came in second, with 22 percent of users buying music from AmazonMP3. This is up from 2011, when Amazon had only 15 percent of the market.

"Since the launch of Apple's iTunes store, digital music downloads have become the dominant revenue source for the recorded-music industry, and iTunes continues to be the dominant retailer," Crupnick said.