Pay Up? Okay. Music Buyers’ Numbers Increased In 2011.

Published on March 6, 2012
by Peter Kafka

Music sales finally ticked up last year, for the first time in a very long time. We won’t know for a while if that’s a one-off gain or the start of the industry’s post-Napster recovery, but here’s an encouraging note: The number of music buyers also increased.

That data point comes from NPD, which says 78 million Americans bought music in 2011, up 2 percent from 2010. And that’s the second consecutive year the number has bumped up.

Since CD sales continue to decline, the uptick here comes from the digital side, just like people have been predicting since … forever. NPD says 45 million people bought digital downloads at Apple’s iTunes and Amazon, up 14 percent from 2010.

Given that it’s easier than ever to listen to free music, legally, via streaming options like Pandora and Spotify, the fact that paid downloads are up is a little counterintuitive.

But that’s always been part of the streaming music service pitch to the big labels: Let us give away your stuff, and we’ll help increase demand — just like radio used to do.

We’re starting to hear murmurs from the labels that this is actually how it’s working in the real world, too. Again, too early to tell if it’s a long-term trend, or perhaps just an Adele-inspired bump. But near-term good news is still much better than years of decline.

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