How many years ago did downloaded music pass physical purchases?

There’s the question.

Based on way too many articles and posts and other stuff, you’d have to assume it happened quite a few years ago, that CDs and the like have been pitiful ghosts for quite a long time.

That’s partly because digital gurus have become very adept at phony equations–e.g., assuming that a single-track download equals a full-album purchase, then shouting about number of downloads exceeding number of albums (in physical form) sold.

And, of course, because The In Crowd abandoned physical media far ahead of anybody else.

So what’s the answer?

According to Sound & Vision, at least, the answer is…


Last year.

The first year in which revenues for downloaded audio exceeded revenues for physical audio media.

Which, by the way, only means “nobody buys CDs [or LPs] anymore” for that special definition of “nobody”: “none of my friends” or “none of the in crowd” or, in this case, “slightly less than half of all music purchases, therefore essentially vanished.”

Even that magazine used “eclipsed” to mean “exceeded by at least 1%,” which is far more dramatic.

(Other sources say it was 2011, depending on what’s included: To wit, combined revenue for digital downloads and streaming services passed 50% of total music revenue in 2011. But that’s the earliest.)

Huffington Post’s “coverage” of 2012 numbers was typical: The headline says the numbers prove that, among other things, “CDs are Dead.” Because they represented only 40% of total music revenues in the U.S. in 2012–40% is dead. Makes life simple, doesn’t it?

Oh, by the way: Globally, 57% of the music business is still physical (mostly CDs, although LPs are a slowly growing field).

And for album purchases, CDs and LPs still considerably outweighed downloads in 2012–in numbers, 198 million to 118 million.

What? The U.S. saw nearly 200 million CDs and LPs sold in 2012? But physical music is dead!

Apparently some people didn’t get the memo.

2 Responses to “How many years ago did downloaded music pass physical purchases?”

  1. laura says:

    My stereo is slowly dying. But I never assumed physical music was dead, perhaps because I bought a CD at a show just a couple of months ago.

  2. Walt Crawford says:

    The continued health of live music may be one reason CDs probably won’t go away altogether, since it seems as though lots of people do that. I notice that, at the Saturday farmers’ market, the musicians (playing for tips) almost always have CDs for sale.