We first reported this a few days ago, based on preliminary data shared by a top-level industry executive. Now, Nielsen Soundscan has officially revealed that a-la-carte, song downloads are declining in 2013, a potentially historic shift in format preference.
The preliminary data we shared on album downloads also proved correct. The Soundscan numbers indicate a single-digit, 9 percent year-on-year gain, sluggish compared to previous years. Album sales are far smaller in absolute terms, which means smaller gains translate into bigger percentage gains.
This could be the year that everything changed. Streaming is now booming, and everyone is getting into this game. Everyone meaning: Amazon, Apple, Samsung, Spotify, Xbox, Muve, Deezer, Rdio, Rhapsody, and about ten others, which means tons of cash drop-shipped to the major labels and publishers, but not so much paid to individual artists and smaller rightsholders. Downloads, on the other hand, produce far higher returns and near-complete levels of transparency.
There are reasons to remain calm. Actually, Billboard journalist Glenn Peoples pointed to a brief, one percent drop in late 2010, a situation quickly reversed by the shutdown of Limewire. And readers are currently debating the veracity of Soundscan stats, a longtime sore-spot for the data company. For starters, the most recent Apple stats show massive iTunes gains, though that appears to lump (and disaggregate) album purchases. Nielsen puts digital albums into a separate pile.
Written while listening to the soundtrack to The Walking Dead.