The case for streaming cannibalization just got a lot more difficult. According to US-based stats just shared by Nielsen, one billion songs have already been downloaded – and paid for – in 2012. That was once a smashing record for an entire year (ie, 2008), much less the span of 9 months. This also looks like the earliest point at which the billion-mark has been reached in the US.
That is also a fairly strong increase over last year. In 2011, just over 1.3 billion downloads were counted, according to Nielsen. Which means that current-year tallies are likely to beat last year’s finish, possibly by a healthy margin (let’s see). At this exact pace, current-year downloads would hit 1.33 billion, a calculation that assumes completely steady downloading rates through the holidays.
The question now is how strong the 2012 issues will be, and how long it lasts. So far, at least through 2011 and at least in the US, the evidence strongly suggests cannibalization isn’t happening.
The album sales picture also seems interesting. According to Nielsen, album downloads are already up 15 percent year-over-year. In 2011, album downloads hit the 100 million mark, and those are counted separately (with 10+ tracks per album).
Unfortunately, we don’t have a broader, global dataset to complement these US-based statistics. The knee-jerk assessment might be that downloads are growing everywhere, but that would ignore a far greater level of streaming adoption across Europe. Which could mean that cannibalization is indeed happening across the Atlantic, and a mere preview of trends to come in the US.