Digital Music Sales Just Dropped for the First Time Since iTunes

In 2013, digital music sales declined for the first time since Apple launched the iTunes Store 10 years ago. Are streaming music services like Rdio and Spotify to blame?

Nielsen SoundScan just released its annual music sales numbers and while none of the news is good, the digital music sales numbers are particularly troubling to the recording industry. Billboard reports:

Overall for the full year 2013, digital track sales fell 5.7% from 1.34 billion units to 1.26 billion units while digital album sales fell 0.1% to 117.6 million units from the previous year's total of 117.7 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

iTunes has long been the one of the main sources of revenue for the flailing recording industry. CD sales have been plummeting since Napster, but thanks to Apple, at least the artists and their record labels were moving digital units. Well, it's not forever it seems.

Now the big question is whether streaming music services are to blame. While Nielson hasn't released its 2013 streaming numbers it's pretty obvious that subscription music services are on the rise. Anecdotally, it seems logical that there should be an inverse relationship between digital music sales and streaming music subscriptions. If you have Spotify why the hell would you buy a digital album? (Vinyl sales are up 6 percent year-over-year, by the way.) Labels have been saying this would happen for years, and everybody from Thom York to David Byrne has spoken out against the evils of streaming music. Well, not evils. The services are great. But evil in that they're not awesome at making artists any money.

Of course, the decline in sales doesn't necessarily mean a decline in revenue—last year the recording industry actually grew. We'll have to wait and see if it can keep on growing if it turns out that Spotify is going to wipe iTunes off the map. [Billboard via Circa]