March 15, 2015

With music streaming services like Spotify and Rdio growing steadily, digital distribution services such as iTunes  continuing to be successful, and piracy being as strong as ever (as reported on in “How to Stop Piracy”), it is no surprise sales of physical music have been falling. In 2014, revenue from digital sales grew 7 percent to $6.85 billion, while physical sales fell 8 percent to $6.82 billion. However, these fluctuations appear to simply be consumers changing their preferences in purchasing music, as overall revenue in the music industry has stayed relatively steady, falling 0.4% to $14.97 billion for 2014.

Although piracy is a very popular option for music consumption, the appeal of cheap or ad-supported free streaming services is evident. With Jay-Z’s new streaming service Tidal already at 500,000 paying users, it seems digital music distribution is set to take over completely. However, whether or not digital distribution is the best method of distribution has yet to be seen.

Despite the hassle of having to go to a brick-and-mortar store or having to pay for shipping from an online retailer such as Amazon or eBay, physical copies of music carry certain advantages over digital ones. Unlike streaming services, the purchaser of a physical copy of music owns that copy and may listen to it whenever he or she wishes. On the other hand, if Spotify’s servers were to stop running, anyone with a playlist on Spotify would be unable to listen to it until the issue was fixed. Additionally, many people enjoy the feeling of having a collection of tangible objects – rather than a list of music on a screen. Vinyl records have also been enjoying a resurgence in popularity, possibly due to the appeal of vintage technology or the scratchy, warm sound of records.

The convenience and benefits of digital copies of music are undeniable in comparison to those of physical music. In terms of portability, ease of access and replication, and purchase, digital copies of music reign supreme. From the original iPod, launched with the slogan “1000 songs in your pocket” to modern streaming services, digital music is far more portable and easily accessed than physical music. While a collection of 1000 CDs might take up several shelves or large boxes, a 1TB hard drive the size of a few decks of cards can store all 1000 CDs worth of music without any compression. In MP3 format, the same 1000 albums can reasonably be stored on a modern cell phone (assuming 14 songs/album on average, at 5MB/song on average). Digital media also facilitates the spread of music. Without services such as YouTube and Spotify, sharing music would require the sharing of a CD or a tape, or for another copy to be purchased. With streaming services, one only needs to remember the name of the song.

Physical copies of music are far from dead. Many appreciate the nostalgic value of vinyl, or being able to physically handle each album. However, it is clear digital distribution will come to dominate due to the sheer convenience and low cost of streaming and services like iTunes – while physical media will be left as a niche item.

Works Cited

Dredge, Stuart. “Jay Z Aims to Topple Spotify with Music Streaming Service Tidal.” The Guardian. N.p., 31 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <>.

Forhal, Matthew. “Apple’s New IPod Player Puts ‘1,000 Songs in Your Pocket'” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 31 Oct. 2001. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <>.

Vincent, James. “Digital Music Revenue Overtakes CD Sales for the First Time Globally.” The Verge. N.p., 15 Apr. 2015. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <>.