Digital music sales are going strong. The most recent study suggests that overall music sales are up around 1.6 per cent, with CD sales down around nine per cent in the first quarter of 2011 and with digital music sales up around 17 per cent. The net was a gain of just under two per cent for the industry as a whole, on top of gains in previous quarters.
That's good news for Apple, which is probably closing in on around 20 billion song downloads at this point, but overall the industry isn't doing so well - even with some top peer-to-peer/torrent companies throwing in the towel under the threat of massive lawsuits.
There are a few success stories. The decision to release The Beatles collection on iTunes had a huge impact on online music sales and there are companies and bands that are doing some really innovative things to get fans back. At the end of the day, people are consuming more music than ever.
Everywhere you look there are signs of a healthy industry. Warner Music Group and its library of songs is on the auction block for over $3 billion; Limewire may reach a settlement with the Recording Industry Association of America that would allow people to start trading music again; Pandora is on the verge of an IPO; Amazon, Google and Apple have launched/are launching "cloud" music services that allow you to access your collections from anywhere; Microsoft's Zune Pass (STILL not available in Canada!) is in the process of being re-branded and re-launched and may be the best and cheapest way to enjoy a library of 10-plus million songs. Some of the hottest smart phone apps are music-related, like LastFM, Pandora and, my personal favourite, TuneIn Radio. Concert tickets sales are generally strong, and music festivals are becoming more eclectic to reflect the fact that the audience is sophisticated enough that the average audiophile can appreciate rock, electronic, hip hop and Nu Metal equally.
But while the industry is showing signs of life, experts have pretty much admitted that there is zero chance that it will make a full recovery. We've been so conditioned to paying $1 for a song, $9 for an album, that nobody will ever pay $15 to $20 for an album ever again - even if people paid that much 30 years ago without blinking.
While that's a good thing for customers - and I think music today is as good if not better than it's been in a long time, especially Canadian music - the ready availability and cost of music has a few music fans concerned for the future.