History Says the Most Portable Music Format is King

40 Years of Music Sales

40 Years of Music Sales – Click Image to See Moving GIF

Digital music news has compiled this fantastic infographic showing how music sales have constantly and rapidly changed over the last 40 years. The most interesting thing I observe is that portability has always been at the forefront of people’s minds, when deciding which format they will make their next music purchase on.

Looking that the graphic data and we see that from 1973-1977 the 8-track represented around 25% of market share. The 8 track’s target market was automobiles as it gave consumers the portability of music in their car. Then in 1978, 8-track market share decline rapidly and in almost direct correlation to increases in cassette. Obviously cassettes have similar degree of portability with regard to cars. Perhaps this sudden shift represents car manufacturers beginning to install cassette decks into cars in much higher volume.

We don’t really see any notable decline in vinyl sales until 1982 when the 8-track had moved to a measly 1% of market share. It is here that we first see the cassette begin to eat into the vinyl LPs market share. This period of time coincides with a major development in music portability, the Walkman, which was first released to the American public in 1979. Is it possible that consumers were thinking of this added layer of portability when choosing between vinyl or cassette?

Moving onto CDs and we can see that initially, between 1984 and 1989 they only eat into the market share of the vinyl LP. Cassettes remain at about 50% market share until 1990, at which point the vinyl LP represented only 1% of the market; sound familiar? At this same time due to advances in battery and anti-skip technology, portable and car CD players were beginning to surface. So was portability again influencing the purchasing decision of music fans?

Now between 1990 and 2002 we see CD sales grow to a point of 95% of market share. Then in 2003, we witness their first decline. Whilst this is still minor, less than 1% in fact, it’s hard to ignore that 2003 was when Apple launched iTunes and by June 2003 had sold their millionth iPod. In the ten years since, we have witnessed a rapid decline in CD market share to the point where in 2012 they only represent 35% of market share.

Looking at 2012 and there are now more formats now than ever. If we combine the most portable formats; download single, download album, sound exchange, mobile, and subscription & streaming, their total market share is 57%. As a whole, these formats have grown rapidly at the expense of the CD. Interestingly though, subscription and streaming growth since 2009 seems to be directly at the expense of mobile. One wonders that as mobile data services improve, if subscription and streaming services like Spotify will move into the market share of the digital album and digital single? It is after all just as portable, but no need for syncing and no nasty end-of-month credit card bills; just a single flat fee.


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