40 Years Of US Music Sales From Tape Deck To Tidal
The recorded music industry has had a tumultuous 40 years, seeing both profitable highs and devastating lows. Here we look back a on timeline stretching from the eight track to the current streaming boom.
Guest post by Bobby Owsinski of Music 3.0
U.S. Music Sales have had a lot of ups and downs over the last 40 years, with the peaks amazingly high and the troughs depressingly low. Thankfully we’re in an upswing right now that looks like it will continue for a while, but we can really gain some perspective on it all when we look at the chart from Statista below.
The data is from the official reports from the RIAA with sales adjusted for inflation. Take a look and then we’ll add some observations (the chart has a misprint as it says 30 instead of 40 years).
You will find more infographics at Statista
As you can see, U.S. music sales are now at about the same level as they were when the chart started in 1980 at $11 billion. That’s half the amount as when the industry was at its peak in 1999-2000 though. The reason why is that the price from CDs during that era were artificially high at anywhere from $16 to $20 for front line hit product. Not only that, catalog CDs were flying off the shelfs as consumers lined up to replace their vinyl collections with new plastic discs (that doesn’t look like such a great idea now).
The low point really came in 2014 when the industry struggled with only $7.2 billion in revenue, down about 1/3rd of what it was at its peak. Actually, there was a 4 year period starting in 2010 where the revenue was roughly the same so executives everywhere were fearful for what the industry had become.
What’s interesting here is that period was the era of downloads, which some look back on with nostalgia because of the $0.99 price. That can look mighty good compared to the average stream paying out at $0.004 today, but what everyone forgets is that piracy was also running rampant, which may have been the main reason why the music industry flailed about during this period. In 2015 streaming picked up the pace though, as U.S. music sales took a turn for the better and we haven’t looked back since.
One thing to take notice is that at the peak of the cassette craze in 1982, total music sales actually dropped back below $10 billion. It just goes to show that new technologies don’t always add up to the revenue that everyone expects.