Skip to main content

RIAA reports streaming music sales finally beat downloads, no thanks to free loaders

A woman wearing headphones looks at a smartphone while listening to music on a sofa.
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Almost exactly one year ago, the RIAA released data showing that in 2014 streaming services had finally surpassed CD sales, with streaming revenue at $1.87 billion compared to $1.85 billion from CDs. Digital downloads still did better than both but, looking at the trajectory, it was clear that this wouldn’t be the case for long.

Yesterday the RIAA released its data for 2015, acknowledging that the inevitable had indeed happened. “For the first time, streaming was the largest component of industry revenues, comprising 34.3% of the market, just slightly higher than digital downloads,” senior VP of strategic data analysis Joshua P. Friedlander wrote yesterday.

This wasn’t the result of explosive growth from one particular company, as the RIAA numbers show that all parts of the streaming market grew, including both subscription and ad-supported streaming. Combining all of these together, revenue grew 29 percent over last year, reaching $2.4 billion.

It was a fairly easy call that 2015 would be the year that streaming services officially passed digital downloads. In May of last year, the Warner Music Group revealed that its streaming revenue had increased by 33 percent and finally surpased digital downloads. Given the company’s status as a major label (one of three), it was fairly likely that this would hold true for the others.

Graph showing ad-supported streaming revenue compared to vinyl sales
Image used with permission by copyright holder

While this is no doubt welcome news to streaming companies, it may not be to royalty rights holders, including musicians, songwriters, and publishers. RIAA Chairman and CEO Cary Sherman notes that while music consumption continues to grow, revenue for the creators isn’t keeping the same pace. “In 2015, fans listened to hundreds of billions of audio and video music streams through on-demand ad-supported digital services like YouTube, but revenues from such services have been meager  —  far less than other kinds of music services,” Sherman wrote in a Medium post.

As proof of how disparate streaming’s popularity and revenue are, Sherman points out that vinyl sales surpassed all ad-supported streaming, generating $416 million compared to $385 million from free streaming platforms. The vast majority of revenue comes from paid, subscription-based streaming services, but as a Nielsen report recently showed, nearly 50 percent of Americans don’t see the point in paying for music streaming.

Despite this, Sherman remains confident that the future of music is promising. With that in mind, it’s anyone’s guess where we’ll be when the RIAA issues its numbers this time next year.

Editors' Recommendations

Kris Wouk
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kris Wouk is a tech writer, gadget reviewer, blogger, and whatever it's called when someone makes videos for the web. In his…
NAD’s CS1 adds wireless streaming music to any audio system
The NAD CS1 Endpoint Network Streamer.

If you've got a hi-fi system you love, but it doesn't speak Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay, or any other wireless streaming languages, NAD's new CS1 Endpoint Network Streamer ($349) provides a super-simple and compact upgrade.

The London, England-founded, Canadian-based company, announced the compact audiophile-grade component today that allows you to add streaming capabilities to pretty much any music system. The CS1 can play high-res audio at up to 24-bit/192kHz (with its internal DAC also supporting MQA decoding) via various sources, with connectivity options that include Bluetooth 5.0, dual-band Wi-Fi, and Ethernet, and features support for Apple AirPlay 2, GoogleCast, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, and Roon. Through Bluetooth, however, you can stream music from any app from a smartphone, computer, or tablet, opening up the playback options.

Read more
Amazon Music Unlimited is getting more expensive in 2023
amazon music expands prime membership expansion

Amazon is raising the prices of its Amazon Music Unlimited streaming subscriptions starting in February 2023. The price of an individual membership will increase by a dollar, from $10 to $11 per month. The student plan is going up by the same amount, from $5 to $6. Similar price increases have been announced for the U.K. and Canada, though the price of a family plan appears to be unchanged.

The increase comes less than a year after the last time Amazon bumped up its music streaming pricing. In May 2022, it increased the amount that its Prime subscribers must pay for Amazon Music Unlimited, from $8 to $9 per month. The planned February 2023 price increases do not affect what Prime members will pay.

Read more
Want to stream in DTS:X? It’s coming in 2023 thanks to Disney+ and IMAX
Robert Downey Jr. In Avengers: Endgame.

In all the chaos and excitement that is CES 2023, you may have missed a quiet little announcement from Disney+ that could be music to your ears. Starting sometime in 2023, the streaming video service will be upgrading some of its premier Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) titles, like Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, with the DTS:X 3D surround sound format.

It's an expansion of the IMAX Enhanced format that Disney+ already uses on some MCU content to provide a more spacious 1.90:1 aspect ratio for key scenes, instead of the usual 2.39:1 or 2.40:1 ratios that create horizontal black bars when viewed on TVs with a 16:9 screen.

Read more