Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson coined the term “squeaky-bum time” to describe the tense weeks towards the end of the football season, when the prospect of a mistake handing the title to a rival provokes plenty of uneasy shifting about in your seat.
It might just be the best phrase to describe the music industry in 2015, too, as rightsholders watch the digital transition from sales to streams, even as CD sales continue to fall.
We’ve seen 2014 figures from the US and UK showing music download sales tipping into decline while overall revenues remain flattish; and we’ve seen Scandinavian poster-child markets Sweden and Norway slip into decline as streaming’s growth gets hauled back by a sharper drop in physical sales.
Now it’s France’s turn, with industry body SNEP revealing a 5.3% decline in recorded music revenues last year. Physical sales were down 11.5% to €325.3m, download sales down 14% to €54m, and streaming up 35% to €73m – which, yes, means music streams are now more lucrative than music downloads in France.
Yet with physical sales still accounting for 57% of overall revenues, streaming has a lot of legwork to do over the next couple of years to make up for the continuing decline of the CD format – a challenge as important as making up for falling download sales.
Deezer, Spotify and rivals must double down on their strategies to make streaming accessible to CD buyers who may have missed the intermediate step of downloads out entirely.
Meanwhile, rightsholders who’ve placed their bets on streaming’s ability to bring markets like France back to sustainable growth will continue to shift uneasily (and, indeed, squeakily) in their seats as the transition that they have been anticipating for years gathers pace.