The one bright spot for the music labels: Digital

The financial picture of the music industry is still bleak, but YouTube, Spotify, and other services are helping.

Paul Sloan Former Editor
Paul Sloan is editor in chief of CNET News. Before joining CNET, he had been a San Francisco-based correspondent for Fortune magazine, an editor at large for Business 2.0 magazine, and a senior producer for CNN. When his fingers aren't on a keyboard, they're usually on a guitar. Email him here.
Paul Sloan
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The music industry is still in rough shape, based on data released today by the Recording Industry Association of America. But U.S. digital revenues continue to climb, helped by the growth of so-called "access services" such as Spotify, YouTube, and Vevo.

And the bigger picture shows that the beaten-down industry is stabilizing. Recorded music sales slipped 0.9 percent from 2011 to 2012, totaling $7.1 billion. That's roughly in line with the total sales for the last few years.

Sales from digital formats, meantime, rose 14 percent from 2011 and last year surpassed $4 billion for the first time. Sales from digital formats made up 59 percent of the total U.S. market. So while the industry is still a fraction of its size a decade ago, digital is showing promise. Collectively, the access model services made up 15 percent of recorded music sales last year -- up from just 3 percent in 2007.

The importance of Spotify and other music services is growing

Digital downloads -- in the form of single tracks and albums -- continued to grow, rising 8.9 percent to $2.9 billion in 2012. As for the lowly CD? The picture is still bleak. The physical market saw sales plummet 16.5 percent to $2.8 billion in 2012. One part of the physical market, however, was hot -- and that was vinyl. Sales of records rose 36 percent to $163 million in 2012. That's still only 2 percent of the total pie, but not bad for a format many predicted would be long dead by now.