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US subscriptions surge still accompanied by ‘value gap’ fears


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One of the facts that may have gone overlooked in the USA’s recent surge in recorded music revenue is the country’s incredibly strong music subscription numbers, which come under the microscope in our latest US country profile.

In 2019 the US averaged 60.4m paid subscriptions, up from 46.9m in 2018, according to the RIAA. If we consider that there are 128m households in the US, someone in around a half (roughly 47%) of all houses in the US pays for a music subscription. By contrast Sweden, one of the most advanced digital music markets in the world, is thought to have somewhere between 2.3m to 3m music subscribers among its 4.5m households, or a subscriber in 51% to 67% of all houses, a figure that is a lot closer to the US total than you might expect.

What’s more, the 60.4m figure in the US is likely a significant underrepresentation of the true number of music subscribers. It doesn’t include non-paying members of family plans – one family plan equals one subscription in the RIAA stats – and it doesn’t reflect ‘limited-tier’ services like Amazon Prime and Pandora Plus.

Dr. Richard James Burgess, president and CEO of A2IM (American Association of Independent Music), says that “there are too many factors to parse” to be able to confidently predict a ceiling for subscriber numbers. “I look at the amount of free usage and I believe that those users could be converted if they had more incentive to subscribe,” he adds. “The ceiling for subscription growth in the US is related to the availability of unlimited free music. The value gap is still a real issue.”

Stuart Dredge

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