Digital Single Sales Collapse in the US

Is it time to panic over a major drop in US digital single sales, or will streaming services save the day before the year is out?

Ultimate Guitar

The music industry has had a knock back after surprising news that digital single sales in the US have fallen by 2.3 percent compared to last year. But on the plus side, digital album sales continue to grow - albeit at a slower pace than before, at 6.3 percent growth, according to figures in Billboard.

Digital has been growing to help compensate for the decline in physical sales over the past decade, so the drop in single sales means that industry bods will be looking out for 2013 results on streaming income to see if digital revenues will level out by the end of the year. Streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, Rdio and more have seen widespread adoption this year, so there's hope that the music industry can continue to claw back fans from piracy websites and convert them into paying customers - even if it's at relatively low streaming subscription rates of $5 or $10 per month.

But digital streams are often criticised for their low royalty rates, and even Pink Floyd stepped into the debate last week when they accused Pandora of taking sneaky steps to reduce musician royalty payments by 85 percent - an accusation that Pandora denies.

What do you think will happen if digital music fails to save the music business? Will the industry move underground? Share your theories and hopes in the comments.

62 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Maybe it'll make the industry realize that creating people solely for the purpose of making a huge single off them and then forgetting they exist is the complete wrong way to go about music.
    To me it's common sense, but the general population aren't exactly smart people when it comes to the quality of material they listen to.
    This is so true. What happened to the days of writing records? Something that was one cohesive and unified thing with some album art and themes amongst the whole album that makes you go, "This is awesome!" It's all about the single nowadays, which sucks because now it's all filler back catalogue for these famous artists.
    YES! where everything from the music down to the art work and packaging was thought out and you really really wanted to buy and listen to "the album" instead of just listening to the songs. and not in the snobby hipster "look how many colors of vinyl i have this on" kind of way
    lol, that's some wishfull thinking right there. If anything the major labels will further exploit their artists and extort their customers.
    Not much incentive to buy when you can just put to the best part any song or album you want on youtube.
    2.3% fall is considered a collapse these days? I know free services like spotify and pandora are becoming the future pretty damn fast, but a 2.3% fall is hardly anything to panic about.
    lol, how many millions of dollars does a 2.3% fall involve? think on the large scale.
    People should really learn to buy full albums and listen to it in their entirety. It annoys the sh!t out of me when people are like "Oh, I love AC/DC, huge fan." Oh, what's your favorite song.? "Oh I don't know the name of the song, Thunderstruck?" I've known people like that and it's really irritating the number of actual hardcore fans of bands are anymore. Not just AC/DC but anything.
    Actually, if you primarily listen to albums all the way through, you don't always know the names of the songs. I've been listening to blink-182's Dude Ranch since 1997, and I couldn't name more than 3 or 4 songs off the album. Same with The Wall, Tommy, Physical Graffiti, Disraeli Gears, etc. Even more so when you get back into older stuff like Magic Sam.
    both points are completely right. the thing with people 'loving' a band and not really knowing jackshit about them, is stores like hot topic and whatever selling band merch and I guess, good promotion for the band but half the kids have no idea what they're wearing. I remember this chick in high school, her favourite Ramones song was 'hey ho lets go' and she couldn't name you a member - even though they're printed on the front of the fuccking shirt. I reckon there should be mini quizzes for everyone at those stores. go scan what you want to buy and it spits out a few questions about each band who's merch you're looking at buying. and you gotta answer then and there at the counter as you're asked, no googling on your phone. that'll divide the fans from the shoppers. as for the record thing, completely agree! sometimes it drives me so nuts (depending how many times I've heard the record and how much I really want to know) i'll skip through the songs while looking at the tracklist to see what's what. insane!
    link no1
    I usually don't remember song names, doesn't mean I'm not a fan. With the amount of albums I own I would be surprised if anybody could memorize the entire track listing by name. I can remember exactly how a song goes most of the time, the name just slips my mind usually. I get what you mean though. I hear it all the time when I'm out and some guy see's my Metallica shirt and feels the need to come and tell me he likes 'rock & roll'. "Oh, I love Metallica! I really like that song 'Enter THE sandman!" but they can't name any other song at all... 1) They're not rock and roll 2) You don't 'love' them, you kind of like one song that you kind of know the name of 3) It's 'Enter Sandman', there is no 'The' in the title, why do people insist on adding 'The'?. It also doesn't make you special that you have heard it, near everybody has heard it and I don't care that you have heard it aswell. Well done, have a friggin' cookie. 4) Why is it always the same bands people do this with? AC/DC, Metallica, Iron Maiden. It wouldn't be as bad if it was something a little less unknown rather than these few bands everybody in the developed world has heard of. 5) Just because I'm wearing a band shirt doesn't mean I want you to come and tell me your musical tastes. F,uck off and leave me alone, I'm trying to have a beer with friends, not talk to one of hundreds of people who do this to me on a regular basis about a subject they barely have any knowledge on. /end rant
    I wanted to point out all the paradoxes you have in your comment and tell you you're a jerk, but the "/end rant" made me laugh...
    I think the rebirth of the music industry would be the best thing. The big dogs should realize, that making nonsense, shitty pop songs is not how it works.
    Rebirth? Fuck that. Permanent death is more like it. Bands now have ways to directly sell their material and receive 100% of the profits-we don't need an industry.
    EXACTLY! I listen to a couple bands who just sell their records through bandcamp with no label. The only problem is that there is not enough promotion to keep their ball rolling. That is the last obstacle we have to overcome. There have to be more and more bands doing this, so that a greater amount of listeners recognize and look for unsigned bands, because it's hard for them to promote themselves.
    agreed. the thing is though they're just supplying a demand cause there's money to be made. if they dont put that cash in their pocket someone else will cause enough people dont realize how much better it could be
    Be as it may, for me there's nothing like having tons of CD's on a shelf, having a phisical copy of your music beats the crap out of digital.
    Way Cool JR.
    Sorry but I will stick with buying all my albums at the local music stores like I have for decades. So you guys can keep your digital download bull crap.
    Although I believe that the general public enjoys rather crappy music, we're also not stupid, and still want quality music for the most part. The pop single may sell a lot of copies, but I'm sure the pop-alternative song with depth and emotion will sell more. A good example of this would be bands like Fun, Kings of Leon and even Adele. Those are bands or artists that are out of the ordinary but because they dilvered good & real music they still outsold the pop artist.
    All the CEOs and other rich executives in this country need to realize that screwing over the bottom 50% of the country may benefit them financially in the short term, but they're killing their own customer base. These shortsighted dipshits can't see that the workers they're laying off, paying as little as they can, and generally treating like shit, are the people that buy their damn products.
    Good, maybe people will start making albums again now.
    I'm sorry but this is one of the most ignorant comments I've seen. So many great albums have come out in the last 12 months.
    That's because I was talking about the broader music scene, not just rock and metal. I also enjoy good pop, hip hop and electronic music and all this area is dominated from idiots trying to sell one single. Many newer bands are shifting to the "song-at-a-time" mentality too. The fact that good albums were made this year means squat in that perspective, I was talking about the larger picture the way I see it.
    I don't really even listen to Rock and Metal. But seriously, Pop, Hip Hop and Electronic music are dominated by idiots trying to sell one single? Maybe that's the way it is in mainstream US, but why do you care about that? You have people like James Blake, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Atoms for Peace and Tame Impala making fantastic albums to name a few. Certainly can't see how you think these people are concentrating on selling one single.
    Are you basing your opinion on One Direction/Rihanna/FloRida type music?
    Boy, you sure like to make lots and lots of posts on impulse, trying to defend..who knows what. Again, I really AM talking about the mainstream setting. That's what's being pushed hard, that's where the money is and, once again, many starting bands are shifting to trying to make a single instead of a record. There were times where actually good musicians were on the mainstream, making good records. Now it stopped happening. The fact that there are people making good albums is irrelevant to what I said, my initial comment was also slightly figurative. Next time, I will make sure to write a solid paragraph with a reference list for you, douche. You're really annoying, by the way.
    Also, the money argument doesn't stand up. Tours are currently more widespread than ever before, and actual musicians (those that aren't in the music world just for money) have more mediums to showcase their work than ever before.
    I'd love to be able to listen good music on the radio, at work, generally outside. Bieber's a millionaire, touring is good but poppy one hit wonders still make crazy money. I think you're trying too hard to prove a point without having any point to prove, you're just stating something obvious.
    Well I presumed America would have something like Triple J, but maybe not?
    Oh well I'm terribly sorry for being really annoying. My point is that you know longer need to rely on the mainstream outlets to listen to and discover new music. The internet has changed all that, which is why the gaps between the two are becoming more obvious. The general public warm to music that is instantly gratifying and usually thus not too in-depth. As someone who has a proper interest in music, it's natural you would not feel attached to this type of music. This is the same in all forms of media. Some big movie franchises recently have been Transformers and the Twilight Saga. Neither of these franchises are aimed at those who would call themselves connoisseurs of film, rather the current pop-culture generation to of which demand these types of films. I just can't see how you can complain about the current state of music when at this exact point in time you have access to more music than any person ever before.
    Everyone is still making albums FFS why does this vanilla post have 4 likes
    I'm not going to claim to be a statistician but I did enough Maths in High School to know the graph posted with this article doesn't represent a 2.3% decrease.
    The problem is that the popular music today isn't made by the performer. The producers write the songs not out of passion for music but passion for money, then take an untalented, attractive person, auto-tune them, and sell them to the world. The performer is also only in it for the money, and it shows. You can clearly hear lack of inspiration and originality in both the instrumentation and vocals. It's just processed, repetitive shit. People call me close-minded when I trash pop music, but they don't hear music the way I hear it. Maybe everyone is finally starting to get it.
    It's getting worse, of course, but Pop music has always been that way. There were 45s and albums. FM stations often had the "Album-Oriented Rock" format and AM stations would play hits. You could hear a new Zeppelin album on FM, then when your girlfriend drives your car she would change it to AM and listen to the Osmonds new "Hit" haha. The Beatles were an example of both actually. They started as a Pop hit-writing machine, then went on to become an album band...and had some of Rock's greatest! Seems that Rock radio is all talk shows, almost like AM now...except less political. It's like that in the Seattle area at least. Sucks!
    come on pink floyd, you're already swimming in money!
    Ummm, you know Pink Floyd isn't the only band that gets paid by pandora and sometimes when... You know what screw it, how dare they sing the song dogs of war when they have not once witnessed an arms deal and have never lived in a warzone, ****ing hippocrites trying to point out evils that do not directly affect them.
    Pandora sucks now. It used to be they played ads every 4 or 5 songs and let you skip 6 songs per station every hour. Now, they play ads every other song and the 6 skips are cumulative, so if you use a skip on one station, it counts towards other stations as well
    Streaming services are the future. Since the death of vinyl I no longer feel the need to covet physical media. Plus, if you love an artist, go see them live. Then it's money straight to the band rather than the record company
    You just made my day, thanks for the laughs *facepalms while laughing uncontrollably*
    I disagree, i think there is a public for each type of media, and the more you are a fan with money, the more different media you'll want to own. The guilt is of the minimun wage, not of the fans or the records companies only.
    2.3 fall is not a collapse but still on a large scale its a dramatic decrease. also at least album sales are up 6.3 percent
    Honestly, I don't know much about how this works but 2% doesn't seem like a collapse. If it were 10% I'd start to worry.
    Alligator Dunde
    People still buy music? lolololol
    link no1
    Obviously. Some people aren't scum of the earth and actually want support their favorite bands by buying their albums. I don't care how many people say "go to gigs and buy merch, it's good enough", if they sell a miniscule amount albums they are still going to have to pay the cash back to the label somehow and the label won't want to continue the record deal with a band that sold near no albums because all their fans are over privileged, self centered morons who think they should have everything for free.
    youre the kind of jerk that stops to watch street performers knowing the whole time you're not going to even shell out a buck. dick move. buddy