Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Yikes! The Digital Music Business Is Still Stuck in 2005.

CD sales have been plummeting for more than a decade, and during that time, optimists would keep telling us that digital music sales would end up replacing the revenue that went away with discs.

That has yet to happen. And if it ever does, it won’t be anytime soon: Gartner projects that by the end of 2015 digital music revenue may hit $7.7 billion worldwide, while CD sales will still be around $10 billion.

But there’s something else that really struck me about Gartner’s newest numbers. Take a look and see if you can figure it out:

Catch it? Took me a minute, because I couldn’t figure out what “Personalization Services” were. What kind of name is that for a $2.1 billion industry?

Here’s the English-language definition, via Garnter’s PR team: “The ringtones and ring-back tones that consumers pay for to use on their mobile devices. Typically, these can be acquired directly from service providers and synched to the mobile phone over the air, or can be acquired via a PC or connected device and then synched to the mobile phone.”

To sum up: More than 10 years after Napster, one of the key pillars of the music business is ringtones, a business that peaked around 2005, when some of you would have recognized the image at the top right of this post.

If you’re reading this, you probably haven’t paid for a ringtone since 2007, and you probably don’t know anyone who does. But there it is, generating two-point-one-billion dollars.

And Gartner thinks ringtones won’t die off anytime soon — four year from now, it thinks it’s still a billion-dollar business. Meanwhile downloads, dominated by Apple’s iTunes, are going to grow ever so slowly. Which means that if digital music is ever really going to take off, it’s going to be up to subscription services like Spotify, which up until now haven’t gained any real traction.

Gartner figures that will change, and who knows? Perhaps the Facebook fire hose that’s spraying Spotify at the social network’s 800 million users will work. So far, the signs are encouraging.

But if that doesn’t work, things are going to look as grim as ever — a flatlined CD business, a slow-growth download business controlled by Tim Cook, and … Crazy Frog.

[Image via Wikipedia]

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald