Infographic: From Vinyl LP to MP3, The Digitization of Music

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Music distribution has evolved so much in 35 years that a succession of once-thriving platforms including vinyl records, 8-track players, and cassette tapes have all been consigned to spots in our cultural history museum.

Digital music in particular has squeezed almost all other forms of listening out of the running, even relegating CDs to the arts-and-crafts pile. In the infographic below, F5 Digital Consulting explains the true impact of this rapid change in platforms.

The biggest, or at least most-complained-about hit has been to music distributors’ bottom lines.

By 2009, total U.S. music retail sales had declined to $24.2 million, including both physical and digital media sales, a drop of more than $1.6 million from the year before. While physical media lost about $2.8 million worth of sales, digital media in the form of MP3s didn’t go halfway towards picking up that slack, picking up just $1.2 million in additional revenue from 2008.

Nor has digital music, which arrived about a decade ago, ever approached the peak global unit sales enjoyed by compact discs in 2000. But the introduction of MP3s and other digital formats did help to halt the success of CDS, which had plateaued in terms of sales in the middle years of last decade.

Digital music has certainly won over a lot of people, though. Three years ago, 10 million consumers subscribed to the more than 400 digital music services worldwide, sharing more than 13 million songs, according to F5 Digital Consulting. And while the numbers have surely risen in the years since, a total of 30 billion songs were illegally downloaded between 2004 and 2009, costing the music industry between $17 to $40 billion.

The digitalization of music broke down the barriers between ownership and access, allowing just about anybody to download it or stream it over the Internet after decades of a monopoly on that practice by radio stations.

Amazon’s MP3 service arguably gives the most options to users, offering downloads, streaming music, and cloud-based storage. Other services like Spotify and Grooveshark simply provide access to a library of songs, formats like Apple’s iTunes systems allow for only pay-per-song and cloud options, while a service like Google Music limits users to streaming music with a constant Internet connection and storing songs in the cloud.

Each feature comes with its own perks, F5 Digital pointed out, citing the ability to seamlessly access your music library across mobile, home, and in-car devices, or relish in the digitization of physical media with streaming sites.

For more on the evolution of music, see the full infographic below.

The Evolution of Music

By Stephanie Mlot, PCMag


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