Like Things Aren’t Tough Enough Already?

One more step across the “event horizon”?

This item came up last night in the course of our discussion for the Nashville Feed podcast. Amid the continuing decline in sales of physical music products (CDs, LPs, etc.) Reuters reports that for the first time, digital sales (downloads via iTunes, Amazon, etc.) are not taking up any of the slack (not that they ever took up much of it):

On the downside, digital tracks recorded their first year-on-year quarterly sales decline, falling 0.9 percent to 312.4 million in the first quarter from 315.4 million in first-quarter 2009, when track sales climbed 13 percent year on year.

Unfortunately, there are no additional statistics that offer any further insight into this first-time-ever dip in download sales. It could just be the economic tenor of the times, people spending less money on entertainments, or any number of things.

But I’m wondering if this peak in downloads implies the arrival of a bigger shift. Perhaps it tells us that people who have been using their computers to “buy” their music are finally beginning to discover that they don’t have to “buy” it at all.

What I’d like to see is a corresponding study that assess the shift in habits. Are people actually “listening” to more music online as they discover how much they can access through those channels? Are sites like Pandora,, even the much disparaged Rhapsody or the mercurial Spotify (still not officially available in the US) gaining traffic even as iTunes and Amazon are reporting a decrease in their unit sales?

On some gut level, I think that’s what’s happening here. At some point in the not-to0-distant future, I think we are going to look back at “Q4-09” as the high water mark for digital delivery by purchased downloads, and we’ll begin see “Q1-10” as the point of demarcation of the shift from “ownership” of music to “access.”