Has the Music Business Turned a Corner? RIAA Reports First Revenue Increase in 7 Years

Vinyl Record Player - H 2012
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Vinyl Record Player - H 2012

The 2011 gains are modest but encouraging; digital accounts for half of overall revenue for the first time ever.

The U.S. music industry grew last year. No, that’s not a typo.

The RIAA has released its official figures for 2011, and music shipments posted their first gain since 2004. The increase was negligible -- 0.2 percent to $7.01 billion -- but the long-beleaguered industry, whose value is half of what it was during the halcyon days of 1999, will take whatever victory it can.

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Digital sales led the charge in 2011, making up as much as 50 percent of all shipments. CD sales continued their decline, down 8.5 percent in dollar value ($3.1 billion vs. $3.9 billion) and 4.8 percent in units shipped.

Downloads posted a 17 percent gain in 2011 to $2.6 billion. A surge in digital albums fueled the gains, up 25 percent to $1.1 billion, topping the 100 million-unit mark for the first time (1.09 million). Digital tracks were up 13 percent to $1.5 billion.

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Meanwhile, more Americans are dusting off their turntables, as the resurgence of the vinyl LP continued, up a crackling 31.5 percent to 5.5 million units. They represent only 2.2 percent of the total music market, though. And shipments of good ol’ 45s doubled last year in terms of dollar value to $4.6 million.

Revenue from music subscription services jumped 13 percent to a high of $241 million as the number of users surged by 300,000 to 1.8 million.

The RIAA stats, reported by the trade group’s member record labels, include digital and physical albums and singles, music video and mobile platforms including ringtones and ringbacks. The report for the first time also includes royalties from synchronization of recorded music with other content -- such as movies, TV, video games or other media -- and performance and synchronization royalties.