Music industry revenue hits all-time high

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The music industry brought in $8.4 billion in the first half of the year, with streaming making up 84 percent of the pie. And physical media sales hit the highest levels in a decade.

A photo of Sennheiser’s Momentum 4 headphones on a pillow.

The RIAA just put out the music industry’s midyear revenue report, and it’s a stark illustration of the haves / have-not divide that’s been accelerating in the streaming era. Actually, scratch that: it’s a terrific illustration of how good it is for the haves: retail revenue is up 9.3 percent to an all-time first half high of $8.4 billion, while wholesale revenue is up 8.3 percent to 5.3 billion. (You can read a good explanation of retail versus wholesale here; the industry focuses on retail since that’s where consumer streaming services get counted.)

Streaming revenue was up 10.3 percent from last year — at $7 billion, it accounts for 84 percent of music revenue in the United States. Importantly, the RIAA explicitly notes that revenue from paid subscriptions grew 11 percent to $5.5 billion, but the total number of paid subscriptions only grew 6 percent — that delta is almost certainly down to services like Spotify hiking prices.

All of this is in stark contrast to the complaints of artists, most of whom don’t make any worthwhile money from streaming at all and have escalated various copyright fights for publishing credits to get paid for radio play to absurd levels. But hey, at least the tech execs and label bosses are happy.

There are more charts and graphs in the industry’s full report — vinyl fans will be happy to see the format continues to grow, with physical media hitting the highest revenue since 2013, although it’s comparatively small at $882 million. Vinyl accounted for $632 million of that, and the format makes up 72 percent of physical media sales, with 23 million albums sold compared to 15 million CDs. Finally, it’s important to note that ringtones are still a $6 million business, which… can we get some local music venues funded with that money, please?

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