People Are Actually Buying Music Again

Reports of the music industry’s death may be premature. According to the results of a new study, not only are more people buying music, but some are doing so after hearing the tunes for free on the Internet.

According The NPD Group’s annual music study, after years of declining sales, the total number of tracks purchased — whether on CD or as digital download — rose by 4% in 2011.

The study credits some of this growth to the fact that consumers have access to a wide variety of sources to discover new music. Online services like Pandora, Rhapsody, and Spotify are not necessarily poaching customers away from purchasing music. Instead, they are fulfilling the same role as traditional radio.

And while millions of people are getting their music through download services like iTunes, the NPD study says there are still nearly twice as many CD buyers in the U.S. as there are paid digital-music downloaders.

“The CD still has a powerful attraction for both older, mainstream consumers who listen in their cars, as well as to super fans who enjoy owning the package and assortment of songs from their favorite artists,” said Russ Crupnick, senior vice president of industry analysis at NPD.

45 million people paid to download music in 2011 — a 14% increase from the year before — and they spent $49 on average.

On the illegal download front, NPD estimates that 13% of Internet users downloaded music from a P2P site, down from a the 2006 peak of 19%.

“Industry efforts to combat illegal file sharing, and increased options for listening and downloading legally, have resulted in a sharp reduction in the number of P2P music downloaders,” said Crupnick.


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  1. chefboyardee says:

    “Industry efforts to combat illegal file sharing, and increased options for listening and downloading legally, have resulted in a sharp reduction in the number of P2P music downloaders,” said Crupnick.

    Industry efforts have little to nothing to do with it. “…increased options for listening and downloading legally” is, however, extremely accurate.

    • Derigiberble says:

      Exactly. Spotify pretty much completely killed off any desire I may have to download music via bittorrent.

      • jesusofcool says:

        Now if only they offered a way to “rent” songs for a monthly fee. Download a set amount of music onto your ipod each month for a monthly fee but you only have it for 2 weeks or something unless you purchase the song. Sometimes I need to live with a song or album for a bit to known whether I really want to own it (and not just when stuck at my computer a la Spotify). The music industry really needs to embrace a digital subscription model – a sort of Columbia House CD subscription for the digital age.

  2. FacebookAppMaker says:


  3. Cat says:

    It’s become really easy to purchase music legally online in the last few years, and the price has come down to reasonable levels – Amazon’s 69 cent singles and $5.00 albums are priced right.

    The only reason I have to P2P music anymore is the stuff that’s just not available in any format.

  4. SBR249 says:

    So the music industry finally cottoned onto what Costco and Walmart has been doing for years (free samples) in order to get people to buy new things eh? What they had before with the 30sec preview stuff really isn’t the same as being able to listen to the whole song. That’s like giving someone some flour in order to get them to buy a cake.

    Oh well, better late than never.

  5. Sneeje says:

    Actually, studies have been showing for years that the greatest file sharers are also the greatest purchasers. Why are we suddenly paying attention to this long-standing trend?

  6. longfeltwant says:

    Yep. I just received my new Carolina Chocolate Drops disc in the mail yesterday, bought right on their website. I hope they get most of my money.

    I like for buying used CDs, and there are other similar sites selling used CDs.

    • Jules Noctambule says:

      Thanks for buying a CCD album! Our local music scene appreciates all the support it gets.

  7. I Love Christmas says:
  8. powdered beefmeat says:

    Piracy is just trend, just ask Johnny Depp. Long live “real” media!

  9. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    I wanted to buy a CD the other day…a pretty major mall did not have ANY CD store at all. No place to buy music.

    I called a local Barnes & Nobel, and they said they could special order the CD (the Drive movie soundtrack…something relatively new), but it could take a few weeks.

    I gave up, and just purchased it through Zune for $10…but still, it was a purchase. If I could have, I would have bought the CD.

    • Daniel Svoboda says:

      Agreed. I like the physicality of CDs. They don’t go away when my computer dies.

      • CalicoGal says:

        Neither do music files, if you follow a proper backup schedule. If you don’t, then that’s on you. External drives are so cheap and easy to use nowadays, there is no excuse for crying “LOST PICTURES, MUSIC, AND EVERYTHING ELSE” when your computer craps the bed.

        • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

          Well, if his computer totally dies…and he can’t turn it on to get the music from it onto his portable music device (or play it off his computer), he can at least take his physical CD, put it in his home stereo (or DVD player)…or use the CD player in his car.

          • Daniel Svoboda says:

            I have a backup device, and use it, and it has come in handy from time to time, but Altered Beast has it right. *shrugs* I know I’m a bit of a Luddite, so it’s okay. Personal preference.

    • longfeltwant says:

      I don’t understand. Why didn’t you buy the CD? CDs are widely available on the internet, the same place you bought the MP3s.

      • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

        I prefer physical CDs, as I can just make MP3s, but I think I just wanted it sooner rather than later out of frustration over the lack of physical CDs being sold locally. Normally, if I wanted something like that, I’d get it from amazon.

    • Jawaka says:

      Downloading has killed off all of the music stores. the only ones that seem to be doing well are the specialty shops that carry older records and tapes as well.

    • ronbo97 says:

      Uh, there’s this website called Amazon where you can buy stuff. If you want, you can buy the CD, or download the album as an MP3 file. Or you can buy the CD used at or ebay. If you buy the CD, it’ll arrive in the mail a few days later

      This internet thing. Pretty amazing.

      • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

        Wow, you mean, teh internet where I bought it through Zune? I never heard of such a thing! (read more)

      • BlueHighlighterNextToACoozie says:

        WOW we have a real brainic here. Logic would lead me to guess that if he called two local stores first and THEN went online and purchased it 1) he wanted the CD, again THE CD, that day, 2) he was well aware of online downloading options but again wanted THE CD that day.

        This internet thing, it really allows you to stroke your own ego huh.

      • orion70 says:

        I buy on ebay all the time, but really nothing replaces browsing around a music store for an hour.

    • scoutermac says:

      Yeah.. I went to purchase a cd one day and none of the music stores I went to had it. I had to order it on amazon.

  10. Jawaka says:

    No mention of the fact that perhaps there was just more music available this year that was worth buying?

    • CPC says:

      This. People like Adele make me want to buy CDs again. When I heard Adele sing, I was pleasantly surprised. When I saw a photo of her, I was dumbfounded. Not only can she sing, she’s BUILT.

  11. skapig says:

    An entirely predictable trend considering that a lot of legal listening or purchasing options have sprung up or matured since 2006. For the average listener, the legal options have become easier than the alternatives in many cases.

    The “industry” (major labels) bitched and moaned about piracy when for years when the reality is that they were simply unprepared for the new digital market after ignoring all of the glaring signs and were quite reluctant to enter even after years of overwhelming demand. Ultimately it took an industry outsider – Apple – to really start getting them in line (not the only player, but probably the most influential).

    You also have to bear in mind that the download P2P music stat is not equivalent to lost sales. Some of those certainly are, but just how many is another question.

  12. elephantattack says:

    “Pandora, Rhapsody, and Spotify are not necessarily poaching customers away from purchasing music. Instead, they are fulfilling the same role as traditional radio.”

    This wouldn’t have been a problem Spotify and like would have had to fix if the radio did what what it was supposed to be doing. That is, showing new music. the record companies have made it too expensive to take chances like playing a song people haven’t heard from an artist that few have heard of. Cheaper to simply replay a song from a more successful act.

    • ronbo97 says:

      Not to mention that Pandora (and probably Spotify as well. Haven’t used Rhapsody.) have a link for every song they play that allows you to purchase the song via Amazon or iTunes.

    • Jawaka says:

      I thought that radio stations were around to make money first like any other business.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not into pop but I can understand that there’s probably a lot of risk and not much money to be made by a station playing new music and artists that people haven’t heard of.

      • elephantattack says:

        Radio stations used to be a way to discover new music once upon a time. Now I can’t turn on a radio, and still want to live on this planet.

  13. oldtaku says:

    Wow, imagine, if you give people reasonable access to music they will buy it, even (especially) if you let them listen for free first. Who could have possibly guessed that?

    • Jawaka says:

      We already had reasonable access to music before MP3s came along and changed things. The problem is simply that people won’t pay for things that they can otherwise get for free. Stealing music is still just too easy to do and there’s just not enough risk to get many people to stop.

      • orion70 says:

        My opinion, FWIW, is that many people who typically download music without paying for it, are exactly the types who don’t really give a shit about music anyway, and even if there were not an illegal download to be found on the face of the earth, would still NEVER go out and buy albums. Removing them from the equation would have zero impact on music sales.

  14. history_theatrestudent says:

    If you want to listen to music in your car either burn the songs to a disc, or for about $5 you can buy a jack that connects your MP3 player to an AUX port. Better yet, many newer radio models have a port to plug the MP3 into the car’s power supply.

  15. coffee100 says:

    “Piracy” is demand without a supply.

  16. tbax929 says:

    It’s funny this post showed up today. I was thinking about this just yesterday when I purchased three MP3 albums through Amazon. I was doing the illegal thing for a while, but it’s so cheap and easy to just buy it legally that I can’t even remember the last time I pirated anything.

    • jesusofcool says:

      I switched back to legal means as well recently, mostly because I found myself needing way less new music as I’ve gotten older and have less opportunities for listening. I still hate the $1.29 pricing for more popular songs (and the fact that Amazon and Itunes are nearly identical in pricing). I rarely feel like whole albums nowadays are consistently good enough, so I buy a lot of singles and it can be pricey.

  17. dolemite says:

    This is why it is sad that record companies managed to get legislation passed that adds extra fees/taxes to Pandora, XM, etc. They are doing YOU a service by advertising the music. If anything, they should be paying internet and satellite radio fees to promote their albums.

    • Jawaka says:

      If you can create your own playlists from any artists that you want and stream it from almost anywhere then why would many people ultimately want to buy the CD?

      • Sanspants says:

        Because some of us prefer to have something tangible when it comes to our music collection.

  18. H3ion says:

    Radio stations used to be paid (payola) to play an artist’s music. The theory was that if you heard it on the radio and liked it, you would go to a record store and buy it. That practice of pay to play was made illegal but the radio still served as an introduction to music you wanted to hear often enough to justify buying. You Tube, Rhapsody etc. fill that function today except that record or cd stores are few and far between. I can’t spend a day at Tower or Peaches any more. Sob!

  19. ThinkingBrian says:

    I never stopped buying music either by buying it in CD format or by digital downloads. But I will say that I wouldn’t be music unless I can hear the entire song for free first and that goes for full albums too. Music for me is a stress release as well as gets me going depending upon the music that I’m listening too. I just wish many songs would go back down to 99 cents per song and music videos on iTunes would go down to 99 cents each as well.

  20. The Upright Man says:

    I’ve taken to pretty much only buying CDs nowadays. I bought a few albums from iTunes over the past few months but every so often, I would get a bad file that skipped at some point (It’s annoyance when played on my desktop, but on the iPod, it just stops playing the song entirely).

    So yeah, I’m sticking with CDs for the forseeable future.

  21. Jules Noctambule says:

    A friend of mine recently opened a record store — as in vinyl records. I work close by, and every day after the nearby high school lets out, the place is packed with teenagers picking up the latest punk/hardcore 7″ or filling out their collection of classic rock. It’s pretty impressive.

  22. OnePumpChump says:

    I used to do that. In five years I’d bought one CD, because RADIO WAS FAILING ME. Then Napster happened. I bought dozens of CDs.

    Then the RIAA lost its fucking mind and I stopped buying anything except directly from the artist, after checking RIAAradar (which is, for the moment, gone).

  23. incident man stole my avatar says:

    How does one get an artist to sign an MP3? Long Live vinyl and the cd!

  24. Happy Dad says:

    As much as I would like to see the music and film industry in pain the fact that people are buying is good.

    The entertainment industry will die it’s much deserved death soon enough.

    When a drug head that otherwise would be pumping gas as a gas station or laying a ditch somewhere is getting wealthy something is really wrong. I would much rather see stock holders and company owners get rich than some drug head.

  25. c_c says:

    I think my generation … who came of age during the p2p revolution, has finally ‘grown up’ into responsible adults. I was in college during the peak of Napster and it’s spawn, and still have a big collection of music that I obtained during that error. However today, ‘poor college kids’ have plenty of free streaming options that I’m guessing torrenting music is not as prevalent as it used to be.

    Myself, I stream a lot of music, but when I do occasionally want an album I download it from Amazon. Legally obtained digitial music has crossed the threshold to being cheap and easily obtained (easier than pirating, which is the important part). Back int he day, it was much easier to queue up Kazaa or whatever and go to town. Now I can buy an album on Amazon for 5 bucks, download it to a folder on my computer, and have it sync up with my phone via Google music. Good stuff.

  26. Geekybiker says:

    I know I buy a lot more music than I used to now that I can get legal singles easily. It was rarely worth the effort of tracking down a physical single. You’d have to drive to the store and hope it was out. Full discs were rarely worth buying. Having a direct link to buy off digital radio services is great.

  27. Meghanp91 says:

    A) CD prices have dropped, at least in my city, because no one was buying them; now it’s picking up a bit.
    B) It’s hilariously easy to buy music now. I go through iTunes because its just easier and I can do it straight from my phone (and I don’t buy any albums or songs that I’m not going to listen to constantly anyway). I hear about a song, I play it on Youtube, and if I want it I legally download it, simple as that. You don’t even need a credit card.

  28. Princesssookeh says:

  29. Princesssookeh says:

    But seriously, the only reason that record companies have disputed these facts so much is because it interferes with their ability to sell you lazy, low quality crap. With the way they want you to be able to get music:
    1.You don’t know it’s crap until you’ve already given them your money.
    2. you have to rely on radio, that now only plays a handful of songs from only a few artists all day, because that’s what the record companies want you to buy.