Raise Your Hand If You Still Like Music Downloads

Kid listening to music downloads on an iPod shuffle
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Music downloading is far from dead, according to a just-released study.  In fact, offline listening is far more common than streaming online.  But what’s keeping this format alive?

If streaming music is so superior, why is its inferior predecessor still going strong?  A big reason is price, according to a just-release study.  As in, free (you figure out the rest).

But there are some other twists to this story.  And just like everything else in the music industry, this isn’t as predictable as we once thought.

Enter Limelight Networks, which just endeavored to study the habits of millions of people across France, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, the UK, and the US.   And at a top level, the results are pretty astounding.

Far starters, it turns out that a whopping 46% of music fans still prefer downloading their collections, while 37% prefer streaming.

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Overall, far more people are downloading music for offline listening, often on smartphones (more on that later).

Of course, those ratios are tilting quickly towards streaming.  And, completely away from CDs: according to Limelight, just 17% of Americans prefer to listen to shiny discs.

But the decline on downloading is slower than you might imagine.  According to Limelight, music downloading is only declining by 4.3 percent year-over-year.

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Meanwhile, streaming platforms like Spotify are surging.  Just this week, the Spotify announced that it has 140 million active users.  Earlier, the company pointed to 50 million paid subscribers.  Separately, Apple Music now boasts 27 million paying subscribers.

But that isn’t putting a crushing dent in downloading, at least not yet.  And part of the reason for that is price.

Sure, streaming is free on platforms like YouTube and Spotify.  And you can pretty much find whatever you want (and playlist it accordingly).  But offline listening isn’t free on either of those platforms.  And in the case of Spotify, mobile streaming isn’t completely on-demand.

Which means that if you want offline (cached) music access, you either need to pay for Spotify Premium, YouTube Red, Apple Music, or some other paid platform.  And given that a massive percentage of music fans prefer listening on their devices, we have a market void.

Digging deeper, there are a few other factors fueling offline mobile downloading.  For starters, an entire generation of music fans remains extremely reluctant to pay for content (of any type).  Beyond that, downloading onto mobile devices is s well-worn habit, with most downloading apps, OS upgrades, or e-books on a regular basis.

And for a quick reminder of how powerful free remains, here’s a quick breakdown by territory.

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Those habits shift a bit depending on territory, with the UK showing the greatest propensity to pay. But overwhelmingly worldwide, free downloading is preferred.

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But this is just a bunch of kids, right?  Not exactly.

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6 Responses

  1. music stowaway

    The paid music download isn’t dead and still ticks along.. mind you.. sales for the non-blockbusters have shrunk a lot.

    Not everyone wants to rent music (as someone once put it..) and by buying a download you get to own the music..

    One thing for sure.. in most markets the CD is a dead duck..
    In fact the whole look of the CD seems so old fashioned nowadays..

    Japan, South Korea and Germany seem to still have a music CD business.. don’t ask me how..

  2. Jim

    Couple things

    1) Some people just don’t have quality wireless bandwidth.

    2) Quality wireless bandwidth is expensive.

    Notice that middle aged people – like myself – are the ones who aren’t jumping on streaming. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? I have hundreds of gigs of music, I have a 128 gig micro sd card in my phone. I can’t get all my music on my micro sd card, but 128 gigs is enough storage for now. When 256 or 512 gigs cost $40, like my 128 gig micro sd card did, I’ll get one of those and put even more music on the card from my hard drive.

    At home, I use youtube. that’s streaming, right?

    When the music industry actually leads, when the music industry figures out a way to put excellent quality fresh interesting content behind a paywall, Like live video streaming for a penny a minute, I’ll give the music industry $50, and they’ll deduct from my account the money (or points) that I use to watch/listen to the premium content. Why would I stream something that I have already, and if I already have a day to day, normal listening system set up, why would I change it? But, “click here for new awesomeness that you can’t get anywhere else right now” – I’ll set up an account, give them the money they want, and I’ll watch/listen to the fresh excellent content they’re providing on a pay per use model. The music business could’ve hired a coder to do this 10 years ago. Maybe some day they’ll hire a coder. Maybe Spotify, a company with the backing of the majors and a company that both loses tons of money every year and is yet worth tons of money, will start doing something else, something I actually want.

    The internet in many ways is worse than it was 10 years ago. 10 years ago, (approx) Myspace was going strong. If you wanted to know what shows were going on that day, you simply needed to type in a zip code. All the bands had myspace pages and added their dates to the myspace database. You had everything. And then facebook replaced myspace, and the same data was being added by the same bands, but with facebook, you can’t get it. Facebook will occasionally flash show data in front of you, but you can’t just access that data easily. After 3 or 4 years, I figured out one way to get that data, first by clicking “going” to everything, then “interested” doing actual work, following a complicated process of periodically going to the pages of the core venues you care about, going to their event pages, and clicking “interested” for every show at the venue. Pain in the ass. Myspace gave you everything, let you change how many miles away, pretty much excellent, requiring no work beforehand. And the internet is killing alt newsweeklies, which were a great way to get that data before the internet. So, 20 years after the internet, it’s actually harder to know what’s going on in the venues in a systematic way than it was with alt newsweekies as the primary source in the cities. Boston had The Phoenix and BAD, the free Boston After Dark version 25-30 years ago or longer, and the Boston version of The Phoenix is gone.

    Spotify can just say “how about a shows app that is easy and convenient for all the bands” and build it. Spotify could have 10 different simple, single purpose apps. At this point what they have isn’t really different from what youtube has, and I already have hundreds of gigs of music files on my phone, so Spotify really isn’t giving my something I don’t already have. Pollstar is solid for shows, but it really only covers the top stuff.

  3. the hulk

    This was a very poorly worded survey. “Download to listen offline” could easily be interpreted as downloading tracks/playlists/albums to your phone via Spotify for listening when you can’t be online.

  4. Versus

    Downloads cost more than streaming, but I still buy the downloads of music I really like. It’s relatively future proof, and it supports the artists.

  5. Stephan

    I want to listen to music even if there is no internet connection available, so streaming is not an option for me..

  6. elias_n

    I like being in control.
    Particularly when it comes to music which is my greatest passion.
    So what does it mean?
     I make my own music selections and no – I do not follow music discovery systems that feed you more of the same with repeats of recommendations that do not fit.
     I download music for my own active an independent discovering.
    I listen to these newcomers when I’m on the go – traveling and walking in the park.
    When I hear good stuff, I buy the albums.
     I LISTEN, really listen in my own comfort zone ONLY to CD’s, complete albums.
    And I listen over a professional sound system.
    That’s the ultimate complete and perfect experience.
    Nothing else matters, and nothing else can get closer to this experience.
    Streaming, Utube, downloads – to me, these are all means of reconnaissance –search and find to set up the main stage of my perfect music sessions, listening to purchased vinyl and CDs from a top-class stereo system.
    But unfortunately, we, the ones that hang around these circles, reflect only a dying breed of the past.

    Nissim Elias