Yesterday Apple announced that it had reached the milestone of 25 billion songs sold.* The number is impressive by any means and brings yet more important context to the current scale of streaming versus downloading. But of course music downloads are just one part of Apple’s business, and not a hugely important one at that. Apple sells downloads to improve its device proposition. As I have written before, it is effectively monetized CRM, and interestingly in these days of increased investor scrutiny, music sales are actually a low margin revenue stream for a company which prides itself on high margins. Which means the better that music sales do, the more they dent Apple’s profit margins.
But the really interesting trend that the 25 billion downloads reveals is that the surge in iPhone and iPad sales has brought a very significant boost to iTunes sales (see figure). This has major implications for the music industry. In 2008 digital music sales fell off a cliff when iPod sales started their long term decline (see my previous chart here). But now, following an inter-product cycle lull, music sales are up again. The impact of Apple’s device sales on music sales is huge. When declining iPod sales started pulling digital downloads growth down I wrote that ‘when Apple sneezes the music industry gets a cold’. Now it is also clear that when Apple smiles, the music industry grins from ear to ear.
There are other factors at play too (such as the impact of all those new Apple stores coming on stream in markets such as Russia and India). But the data does show that we are some way yet from streaming denting download sales. Largely because downloads are a much more natural entry point for new digital music consumers.
For some final context though, as significant as the surge in iPhone and iPad sales has been on music sales, it has had an even more marked impact on App downloads. Which is a timely reminder that these devices are built for multimedia, interactive, visual experiences. While the music industry’s main product for iPhones and iPads remains a static audio file. That problem needs fixing fast.
*For long term Apple watchers the use of the word ‘sold’ is significant. The language Apple usually uses is that in the opening paragraph of the release ‘bought and download’ which has long been assumed to be worded to capture free downloads also. The interesting question now is whether the use of the word ‘sold’ in the release headline is a clarification of terms, or an over eager copy editor.