The prospect of a transition from music ownership to music access has been floated for many years now, but now it’s underway, there’s a sense that its pace has managed to take many people in the industry by surprise.

As usual, US market trends are a major factor in the debate, first with download sales figures for 2013, and this year with regular coverage of the declining albums market. Billboard had more data on that yesterday: last week’s 3.97m US album sales total was the lowest since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking them in 1991, and the first sub-4m total.

A single week’s sales can mislead, but the article points out that in the first quarter of 2014, average weekly album sales in the US were 4.75m units, then 4.55m in the second quarter, and 4.2m in the first eight weeks of the third quarter.

There’s a real trend here, and unsurprisingly, attention is turning towards the impact that streaming music is having: in this particular market, streaming’s rise may be outweighing download sales’ fall, but it’s not yet shouldering the combined decline in physical and download sales. Cue fretting.

Midia Research consultant Mark Mulligan is releasing a new report this morning which puts his own spin on these trends, claiming that 30% of consumers in the UK, US and Brazil are now music streamers, with a fifth of them paying to do it.

It also claims that 23% of music streamers used to buy more than one album a month but no longer do so, with 45% of music downloaders also music streamers. Mulligan predicts that 37m people will be paying to stream music by the end of 2014, with 210m listening to ad-supported services.

His key point: the trend is less ‘streaming cannibalising downloads’ and more ‘streaming attracting the early adopters who were the biggest spenders on downloads’. The challenge for the industry remains making streaming, well, mainstream.

But the report also picks out an important point: ‘streaming’ isn’t one unified market with the same business model. “34% of music streamers won’t pay for music because they get all they need for free from YouTube,” claims Mulligan.

The debate about how well YouTube monetises compared to services like Spotify is well-worn, but perhaps needs even more focus: to what extent is YouTube cannibalising download sales versus streaming services that pay out more money to music rightsholders?

“YouTube quite simply sucks too much of the oxygen out of the competitive marketplace for premium services to compete effectively,” suggests the report.

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