Sources: Nielsen (2005-2015); Projections of digital music news (2016-2021)
Who downloads more? By 2021, the real answer will be hardly anyone, at least at a paid level.
Last year paid song downloads fell 12.5 percent, according to preliminary details released by Nielsen Soundscan. In the past two years alone, the decline has been 23.4 percent, with paid downloads from sources like iTunes and Amazon dropping below the billion mark for the first time since 2007.
As a result, the music world will experience a more dramatic drop in downloads in 2016, with 12.5% dropping to 18%, according to conservative estimates by DMN. The decline will then accelerate to 25% in 2017, with a 40% decline expected in 2019.
The reasons are not mysterious: Last year, the number of music streams doubled to 317.2 billion streams in the United States alone, thanks to explosive growth of Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music, between others. This directly kills paid downloads, with Apple accelerating the plunge by aggressively pushing consumers to Apple Music streaming accounts.
The rest, as they say, will be history, with downloads niche in the music listening experience, alongside CDs and other marginalized formats.
Meanwhile, future music fans will enjoy even better connections, better localized cache, and a much more transparent level of access to cloud-based music streaming. It looks like spectacular progress, except for the devastating impact this will have on artist and label royalties.
The calculation is breathtaking: from the start, a paid download represents at least 140 times the income of an equivalent stream, and this is the best case scenario based on aggressive stream royalty estimates. Independent labels, many of whom have wholeheartedly embraced streaming in the name of technological advancement, will likely be the first group to suffer massive financial consequences.