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Visualizing 40 Years of Music Industry Sales

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Visualizing 40 Years of Music Industry Sales

40 Years of Music Industry Sales

The record industry has seen a lot of change over the years.

8-tracks took a short-lived run at the dominance of vinyl, cassettes faded away as compact discs took the world by storm, and through it all, the music industry saw its revenue continue to climb. That is, until it was digitally disrupted.

Looking back at four decades of U.S. music industry sales data is a fascinating exercise as it charts not only the rise and fall the record company profits, but seismic shifts in technology and consumer behavior as well.

The Long Fade Out

For people of a certain age group, early memories of acquiring new music are inexorably linked to piracy. Going to the store and purchasing a $20 disc wasn’t even a part of the thought process. Napster, the first widely used P2P service, figuratively skipped the needle off the record and ended years of impressive profitability in the recording industry.

Physical vs. Digital sales

Napster was shut down in 2002, but the genie was already out of the bottle. Piracy’s effect on the industry was immediate and stark. Music industry sales, which had been experiencing impressive year-over-year growth, began a decline that would continue for 15 years.

The Ringtone Era

While acquiring music was as easy opening Limewire on your desktop computer, transferring that new T-Pain track to a flip-phone wasn’t a seamless experience.

This brief gap in technology – before smartphones hit mass adoption – brought us the ringtone era. Distribution was controlled by mobile carriers, so ringtones were a comfortable gateway for the record industry to get a taste for digital-based revenue. In 2008 alone, they injected over a billion dollars of revenue into an industry that was getting used to gloomy forecasts.

Paddling Upstream

Though services like Spotify and Pandora haven’t replaced the money pipeline that CD sales provided, they have reversed the industry’s tailspin. For the first time this millennium, record industry posted an increase in revenue for two consecutive years (and likely a third in 2018).

It took a while for consumers to warm up to paying for a premium music subscription, but today, there’s a solid basis for optimism. Music streaming is now the most common format for music in the United States, and the RIAA reports that streaming now makes up nearly half of the market.

Music Streaming Subscriptions

The End of Physical Format?

Gone are the days when people would line up at the music shop for a hot new release. In fact, CD sales are down 80% in the past decade. Today, physical format sales only account for 17% of the industry’s revenue.

There is, however, one bright spot in physical format segment: vinyl. In 2017, vinyl sales hit 25-year high after making a slow and steady comeback.

Vinyl is written in stone. I think if it’s made it for 120 years now, it’s here forever.

– Jack White

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Charting the Next Generation of Internet

In this graphic, Visual Capitalist has partnered with MSCI to explore the potential of satellite internet as the next generation of internet innovation.

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Teaser image of a bubble chart showing the large addressable market of satellite internet.

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The following content is sponsored by MSCI

Could Tomorrow’s Internet be Streamed from Space?

In 2023, 2.6 billion people could not access the internet. Today, companies worldwide are looking to innovative technology to ensure more people are online at the speed of today’s technology. 

Could satellite internet provide the solution?  

In collaboration with MSCI, we embarked on a journey to explore whether tomorrow’s internet could be streamed from space. 

Satellite Internet’s Potential Customer Base

Millions of people live in rural communities or mobile homes, and many spend much of their lives at sea or have no fixed abode. So, they cannot access the internet simply because the technology is unavailable. 

Satellite internet gives these communities access to the internet without requiring a fixed location. Consequently, the volume of people who could get online using satellite internet is significant:

AreaPotential Subscribers
Households Without Internet Access600,000,000
RVs 11,000,000
Recreational Boats8,500,000
Ships100,000
Commercial Aircraft25,000

Advances in Satellite Technology

Satellite internet is not a new concept. However, it has only recently been that roadblocks around cost and long turnaround times have been overcome.

NASA’s space shuttle, until it was retired in 2011, was the only reusable means of transporting crew and cargo into orbit. It cost over $1.5 billion and took an average of 252 days to launch and refurbish. 

In stark contrast, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 can now launch objects into orbit and maintain them at a fraction of the time and cost, less than 1% of the space shuttle’s cost.

Average Rocket Turnaround TimeAverage Launch/Refurbishment Cost
Falcon 9*21 days< $1,000,000
Space Shuttle252 days$1,500,000,000 (approximately)

Satellites are now deployed 300 miles in low Earth orbit (LEO) rather than 22,000 miles above Earth in Geostationary Orbit (GEO), previously the typical satellite deployment altitude.

What this means for the consumer is that satellite internet streamed from LEO has a latency of 40 ms, which is an optimal internet connection. Especially when compared to the 700 ms stream latency experienced with satellite internet streamed from GEO. 

What Would it Take to Build a Satellite Internet?

SpaceX, the private company that operates Starlink, currently has 4,500 satellites. However, the company believes it will require 10 times this number to provide comprehensive satellite internet coverage.

Charting the number of active satellites reveals that, despite the increasing number of active satellites, many more must be launched to create a comprehensive satellite internet. 

YearNumber of Active Satellites
20226,905
20214,800
20203,256
20192,272
20182,027
20171,778
20161,462
20151,364
20141,262
20131,187

Next-Generation Internet Innovation

Innovation is at the heart of the internet’s next generation, and the MSCI Next Generation Innovation Index exposes investors to companies that can take advantage of potentially disruptive technologies like satellite internet. 

You can gain exposure to companies advancing access to the internet with four indexes: 

  • MSCI ACWI IMI Next Generation Internet Innovation Index
  • MSCI World IMI Next Generation Internet Innovation 30 Index
  • MSCI China All Shares IMI Next Generation Internet Innovation Index
  • MSCI China A Onshore IMI Next Generation Internet Innovation Index

MSCI thematic indexes are objective, rules-based, and regularly updated to focus on specific emerging trends that could evolve.

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Click here to explore the MSCI thematic indexes

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