Compared to streaming, the downloads market is small. The Nielsen Music U.S. Mid-Year Report of July 2017 revealed that on-demand audio streams reached over 184 billion streams in the US in the first half of 2017, a 62.4% increase over the same time period in 2016.
“The first half of 2017 has seen some incredible new benchmarks for the music industry,” said David Bakula, SVP of Music Industry Insights at Nielsen. “The rapid adoption of streaming platforms by consumers has generated engagement with music on a scale that we’ve never seen before.”
Crucially, Nielsen also reported an 18.3% decrease in album downloads, and a 24% decrease in digital track downloads.
That’s a market that’s crashing. “Just five years ago, downloads accounted for 70% of global digital music revenues while streaming was only responsible for 18% – and now that ratio is reversed,” says Sergey Bludov, SVP Media and Entertainment at DataArt.
“Virtually every aspect of the music industry has undergone a profound transformation over the past 20 years, and one of the most significant changes occurred in the distribution of music, shifting from physical mediums to a digital-first reality.”
It’s simple: downloads are dying.
Although Apple is rumored to want to cease offering digital downloads of music within the next year or so, that could be unwise for purely commercial reasons.
“Even though digital music has surpassed the physical sales, pushing people into streaming by eliminating the choice may have a very contrary result,” says Bludov. “Users may defect to stream-ripping sites, and thus the move will play into the hands of pirates.”
Although Apple may be considering the move as a publicity stunt to give a boost to Apple Music, it’s unlikely that downloaded music will disappear across the board while demand exists.
“Most streaming services also offer downloads as a premium option for subscribers,” says Bludov, and there’s another sector of the community that has no option but to download, rather than stream: frequent flyers.