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The Music Business's Song Is on Repeat: Streaming Is Up, Sales Are Flat

Now the question is, can the business actually start growing?

Big Machine
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Good news, music business! Your sales are no longer in free fall.

Bad news, music business! Your sales are flat, as they’ve been for a while.

But you know what? The recorded music business has been so beat up, for so long, that flat still counts as up for these guys. So don’t mind them while they light a victory cigar with this new report from the RIAA, the labels’ U.S. trade group, which says streaming music sales from the likes of Spotify are picking up the slack for declining iTunes sales and CD sales (Yup! People still buy CDs!).

In the first half of this year, the RIAA says, consumers spent $3.2 billion on recorded music — the same amount they did the year before.

The more interesting picture comes when you look at the makeup of digital sales, where download sales from Apple are being replaced by subscription revenue from Spotify and other subscription services, as well as revenue from free services like Pandora.

Again, we’ve been seeing this trend — flat overall spending, but with a different mix — for a while. And depending on where you are on the music food chain, it may seem like things haven’t improved at all, since dollars spent on music don’t necessarily mean dollars delivered to music makers. But that’s a different argument. What you can say is that it looks, for now, like the music business has stabilized.

Next question: Can it start growing for real? We may start to see some answers next month, when Apple starts charging the first users of its Apple Music service $10 a month to keep listening. When that happens, how many people will shell out? And if they do, will they be adding to the pie of music buyers, or just shifting the mix some more?

Sorry for the pun, but — stay tuned.

Oh! And here you go, completists:

This article originally appeared on

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