Streaming audio and video services have been around for a while, but their increasing presence in our digital lives has only recently begun to manifest. There are a number of reasons for this that go beyond the scope of this article, but it’s worth considering why we haven’t seen these services as widely adopted as social media and online gaming.
An illustration of how much has changed in just a few short decades is the transformation from analog to digital music distribution. Digital music had already existed for some time before the internet enabled it; in fact, even the initial spark behind its widespread adoption can be traced back to the mid 1990s when Napster became popular among independent musicians who wanted their recordings available for streaming at will.
But it wasn’t until the advent of the internet-enabled iPod, combined with peer-to-peer file sharing software such as Kazaa, that an expectation was created with reference to when music would be accessible on demand.
At first, most people realised that this meant only songs bought from iTunes could be accessed this way. This restriction was eventually lifted fairly quickly as more people realised they could use Apple’s media player to listen to anything else that was available online.
The internet enabled iPod and P2P file sharing were the key factors that led to the widespread adoption of digital music. Apple’s digital music player was the first device to enable this, and it was the catalyst for the rapid spread of the phenomenon.
Depending on whom you ask, the turning point may have been the release of the first iPod in 2001 or the launch of the first iPod Touch in 2007. Whatever the moment was, it marked the beginning of the end for physical media in the music consumer’s ecosystem.
As digital music became more common, it also became more accessible, and the number of digital music services grew. Consumers could choose from an increasingly large number of options to choose from, and the options grew increasingly diverse.
By the time Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, there were tens of thousands of digital music services available, and most people didn’t even know it. In many ways, the iPhone represented an abrupt shift in the way that consumers thought about digital music. It was the first device that people could use to access a wide array of digital music from any device. It was the first device to enable cross-platform app integration, and it enabled access to a wealth of digital music that hadn’t been available on other platforms.
That same year, rival music companies’ attempts to disrupt this status quo proved unsuccessful. The first major effort to license digital music was started by Universal in 2004, and it was joined by other major record companies the following year. But these efforts fizzled out quickly, and by the time more than two years had passed since the launch of the first major digital music company, there was little sign that a serious effort was underway to establish a long-term presence in the digital music business.
By the end of 2009, there were more than 50 major digital music services, with 80 percent of us having at least one account. By the end of 2010, this had grown to over 80 services, and by the end of 2011, more than 90 percent of us had at least one account. By the end of 2012, streaming music was the dominant method of digital music consumption, with 91 percent of us having an account.
More than a decade ago, when digital music was still in its relative infancy, most people perceived it as being available only on physical media. But with the advent of online music services and devices, this has begun to change.
There is no question that digital music will ultimately replace physical media in our digital lives. But while consumers are actively searching for digital music options, they are choosing not to purchase the formats that currently dominate the digital music landscape.
This trend is due in large part to the fact that consumers have significant choices when it comes to their digital music service providers. When they have multiple options, they are more likely to choose the provider that offers the best value for the dollar.
This trend is also due to the fact that consumers have become more discriminating when it comes to the music they purchase. They are now willing to pay a premium for high-quality, DRM-free music than they have in the past.
The future of music is digital, and the next few years will be witness to a rapid change in the way that we consume music. Currently, most people are just starting to discover the benefits that digital music provides, and it's fair to say that there's a lot of room for growth. Digital music is growing in popularity, already making a big impact on the industry.